‘Ottawa’ PS pay system woes: Foote setting up a satellite centre in Gatineau until Phoenix is fixed
Public Services and Procurement Minister Judy Foote confirmed Wednesday the department expects to hire about 100 people to work at the new centre, which will remain in operation for as long as needed to reduce the backlog and to make sure all public servants are being paid properly.
“We will do whatever we have to do to deal with this situation so that people do not go without a paycheque,” Foote told the Citizen.
“People shouldn’t have to go without pay.”
She said the new centre should be up and running within the month and will be recruiting experienced compensation advisers from among the hundreds who were laid off when the Conservative government launched a pay-transformation project and moved operations to Miramichi, N.B.
Foote said a centre in the National Capital Region can more easily work with the human resources staff of departments, which are mostly headquartered here. HR staff are key players in feeding the information that Phoenix needs. The centre will be housed in the Place du Portage office complex where the department is located.
The new automated pay system has created major headaches for the department, which has dealt with a deluge of complaints from an untold numbers of public servants across the country who were either not paid, paid too much or paid too little.
The rollout began in February with the first round of 34 federal departments, followed by the second phase of 67 departments.
Until now, the department has said the system is working because most people are being paid and the glitches haven’t been out of line for a project of such scale and complexity. The department has also encouraged those who aren’t paid to seek emergency or advance payments from their departments.
The system seemingly functions well enough for anyone who works nine-to-five and gets a regular paycheque with no extra-payments, such as overtime or leave.
The glitches have revolved around changes, adjustments and supplementary payments such as overtime, acting pay, increments or leave. There have been problems with casual and term contracts, new hires and terminations and students.
Creating the new centre is a major step in response to those concerns. Foote said she recognizes the new system is complex but decided further measures had to be taken, particularly to handle the backlog of files that Miramichi has been unable to reduce since the rollout.
Foote said she expects the centre will be a temporary but stressed it will remain in operation “for as long as it takes to get the job done.”
The department previously boosted training at the Miramichi pay centre, where all pay is now processed, and hired 50 additional compensation advisers. It also had a team of Phoenix specialists on-site and on call to handle any glitches.
The giant Public Service Alliance of Canada has made several unsuccessful appeals to the department to delay or slow down the rollout of Phoenix, but last week, fed up, publicly called on the department to shut down the system until it is fixed.
Foote, who inherited the pay project when she became minister, said a new system was definitely needed to replace the previous, outdated, 40-year-old regional pay system, which also experienced problems and delays in paying employees.
The modernization of the government’s pay system was one of the Conservative government’s pet projects, touted for coming in on time and budget. It was booked to deliver $70 million in annual savings by this year.
Some argue the project got off on the wrong foot when the Harper government decided to put the pay centre in Miramichi as a political trade-off for jobs that disappeared when that government closed the gun registry.
A frustrated Foote said she was assured Phoenix had been rigorously tested and that staff were well-trained but questioned whether such a complex and large project was given the resources and training needed to successfully get it off the ground.
In fact, she has asked the department to determine if it was adequately resourced as it did with Shared Services Canada, to which the Liberals gave an additional $383 million in the most recent budget.
Foote said the new centre will eat into the project’s expected $70 million a year savings “but I am prepared to cut into those savings to get this right and make sure all employees get paid.”
“This is a (temporary) measure being taken to fix a problem and I don’t anticipate that problem continuing but we will make sure we have the resources to take care of the (problem) for as along as it continues,” Foote said.
Former compensation advisers have argued the department, driven to save money, underestimated the amount and complexity of work when it decided to reduce the number of advisers.
Departments used to manage their own pay in-house with some 2,400 compensation advisers. Few experienced compensation advisers moved to the pay centre in Miramichi, which opened with about 550 compensation advisers.