Burnt By Phoenix

About the Phoenix pay system

Federal public service workers are proudly committed to providing the services Canadians depend on. Yet thousands are still having financial troubles because they are not being paid correctly or on time.

The federal government rolled out Phoenix, it’s new pay administration system in early 2016. The Consolidation of Pay Services Project combined pay services from participating departments and agencies at the Public Service Pay Centre in Miramichi, NB. The Pay Centre at Miramichi administers payroll for almost all federal government departments and agencies, in total about 260,000 people.

Since the rollout in 2016 tens of thousands of federal public service workers have been underpaid, paid late, overpaid, issued incorrect T4 slips, and in some cases not paid at all for months. Employees leaving the workforce permanently or temporarily have not received their record of employment, which impacts their ability to collect benefits and pensions.

Workers and their unions repeatedly warned the government that problems were occurring with the new system and asked them to slow down the rollout and transfer of new files. These requests were largely ignored, and the rollout went ahead.

Public service workers are now paying the price.

Why are there so many problems with the pay system?

There are three systemic problems with the new pay system:

  • Understaffing: The employer underestimated how many people would be required to effectively administer pay for the departments that transferred their pay files to Miramichi. It has insisted for years that 550 workers could do the work that was formerly done by several thousand trained compensation advisors. It didn’t make any plans to address problems that occurred if this wasn’t the case.
  • Lack of training and awareness:  Training on the Phoenix software has been inadequate. The centralization of pay services in Miramichi and the introduction of the new Phoenix system also means that managers, human resource professionals and financial officers have new functions. Many are either unaware of their new roles or were not adequately trained.
  • Software problems: The software appears to have inherent problems that cannot be easily addressed, especially given the lack of sufficient staffing at the Miramichi Pay Centre.

Workers at the Pay Centre in Miramichi have been doing their best to pay people accurately and on time. But insufficient staff, training and flaws in the new Phoenix pay system are preventing these workers from doing so.

What is the union doing to make sure workers get paid correctly?

  • Raising red flags before and after launch of pay system: PSAC repeatedly warned the Liberal government before the launch of the new pay system, and shortly after the first phase was launched, that there were serious problems.
  • Successfully fighting for a claims process: PSAC successfully pushed Treasury Board to compensate our members for penalties, interest charges and other fees incurred due to pay problems.
  • Taking the government to court: In June, 2016, we filed a court application. In December, we secured a court order, which directed the government to improve access to help for people on disability, maternity, and parental leave
  • Successfully fighting to expand access to emergency payments: Due to pressure from PSAC and the other unions, government departments can now make priority payments to alleviate the financial hardship of employees and former employees who have been under paid as a result of Phoenix pay problems.
  • Pushing government officials for solutions: PSAC representatives meet regularly with the most senior levels of government on a range of issues affecting Phoenix.
  • Raising public awareness: PSAC has been front and center in the media exposing issues with the Phoenix pay system and the pressures that our members in Miramichi are facing.
  • Read more here.

What can the public do to help workers get paid correctly?

Send an email: tell Scott Brison, President of the Treasury Board, to make fixing Phoenix his priority.

We asked federal government workers in BC to tell us how they have been affected by problems with the Phoenix pay system.

This is just a very small sample of what we heard back – many more stories have been reported in the media.

A worker at Corrections Canada

I’ve only been getting 75% of my pay since July 2016. I’ve used up my savings and have incurred debt to keep my household going. I’m worried about what I’ll do when my credit is maxed out.

This has affected my morale at work. I’m very stressed by the uncertainty of my financial situation and it’s hard to feel positive and focus on things when there’s so much financial stress and worry.

A worker at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans

I have been having issues with my MSP payments for over a year now.

My partner is continually dealing with calls from the Province threatening to take us to collections.

A worker at the Department of National Defence

My husband had to sell his retirement investments to get us through six months of me not getting paid.

This caused me huge emotional distress.

The financial toll of this is nothing compared to the emotional toll all of this has taken. Many nights I have laid awake thinking of the hours of phone calls I would have to make talking to the pay centre, or the lunch hours spent at my desk for ear of missing a call back that would never come, or the time I have spent figuring out the math and where my pay has been screwed up.

A worker at Corrections Canada

To date, I am owed approximately $4000 and growing.

These pay issues have affected me not only financially, but also emotionally and mentally.

I have struggled with feelings of anxiety and constant stress over when these issues will be fixed and have lost sleep in the process.

My morale at work has been negatively affected and I often feel unmotivated and indifferent to my job.

A worker at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans

I receiving double pay cheques, which I had to pay back, and then had an incorrect T4 and ended up owing an extra $2000 in tax.

These issues cause me stress and sleepless nights.  Knowing that there is no end in sight to resolving my issues is very very stressful.

I have also been professionally affected by Phoenix because part of my job as an administrator is to help my co-workers with their pay issues and with Phoenix and the Pay Centre not only am I not allowed to call on their behalf, I can’t figure out their issues like I used to because I don’t have the proper information.

The stress both personally and professionally is like nothing I’ve ever experienced and if I had just started with the government instead of having worked for them for the past 17 years, I would quit now.

A worker at Parks Canada

My pay issues started in June 2016 when I went off work for emergency surgery to deal with complications related to a serious medical condition that I have been fighting since 2014.

Unfortunately, going off work last June resulted in multiple overpayments, which I dutifully reported to my manager, HR, and the pay centre.

I thought it would all be easily sorted out when I returned to work in February 2017.

Imagine my surprise to find out that my overpayment amounts were incorrect, my T4 was incorrect, and I did not get paid for 2 months upon my return to work due to miscommunication about the required paperwork.

I was on a graduated return to work program, during which I spent about 75% of my work time dealing with issues related to pay.

After 4 months of struggling each and every day with pay-related stress, and in consultation with my primary physician, I made the difficult decision to stop working. I am now off work for 6 months, to get physically and mentally recovered enough to undergo another surgery in September.

A worker at Public Services and Procurement Canada

Last summer, after a maternity leave, I had to obtain emergency salary advances totaling $9,000 because I was not paid for 3 months.

When I finally did get paid, in August, I thought it was the end of the story but it was just the beginning. In December, the government started to recoup the advances – which is fair enough – but they did so without telling me first.  No communication, no email, no phone call. They started taking $650 off my cheque every week.

Unfortunately, it turned out the pay center had miscalculated all the amounts and now I have no idea if the government owes me money or if I still owe the government money.

This is a nightmare.

A worker at Service Canada

I went on leave without pay in August 2016, Phoenix continued to pay me despite repeated requests sent by my manager to stop paying me.

I went back to work for a different department and in February 2017 Phoenix issued me a notice of overpayment. I paid back the full outstanding amount.

However, as of June 2017, I have not received a single cent of pay from my new job. The pay owed to me is still being deducted as a recovery of overpayment, despite the fact I paid back the outstanding amount already.

It has been a trying situation having to think about how long this is going to take to fix.