Officials with Public Works and Government Services Canada say all 80,000 federal public servants who have encountered problems with the Phoenix payroll system will see those problems sorted by the end of October.
Deputy Minister of Public Works and Government Services Marie Lemay provided a detailed update on Thursday as the government struggled to fix the beleaguered program.
The update comes within 24 hours of pay-day for federal public servants. Tens of thousands of them are still facing issues, including missing money, late deposits and in some cases, a complete lack of any payment at all.
The people who have had no pay at all remain the first priority, said Lemay. Around 500 received their pay on Wednesday, she said, but there are still several hundred more who are being processed. Most can expect to be paid on Aug. 10.
Strangely, 60 people who reported they had not been paid were not in the government’s system at all. Lemay would not speculate if they were trying to scam Ottawa.
The second priority group is the people whose pay is at risk of disruption, including those going on maternity leave, long-term disability leave, or retiring. They will see their files handled within four to six weeks, the deputy minister promised.
Finally, the third priority group will have to wait the longest. Those owed overtime or who have seen their employment terminated will be processed by the end of September, while people who have been overpaid, been on planned leave without pay, are owed deductions or benefits, or who have been promoted will have their files handled by the end of October.
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Officials have blamed the ongoing problems on a steep learning curve for the new Phoenix system, launched in February, and on an existing backlog of case files that were already in the queue when the IBM-created program came online.
On Wednesday, Public Services Minister Judy Foote and Lemay visited one of two call centres that are currently dealing with the debacle.
More call centres are expected to be set up in Toronto, Montreal, Shawinigan and Winnipeg to help handle the volume of calls. These call centres are essentially in charge of triage, Lemay said, and files that require further intervention are referred to administrators with higher security clearance.
“We still have a steep hill to climb,” she said. “If you have pay problems, please contact us… We can’t fix a situation that we’re not aware of.”
The cost of the emergency call centres will total around $15 to $20 million, Lemay added. That’s in addition to the over $180 million spent on the Phoenix system to begin with, and Lemay acknowledged that the cost of emergency measures could increase.
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The government is also moving forward on a claims process for employees who want to seek compensation from Ottawa for penalties they incurred as a result of the Phoenix issues. This could include penalties for missed mortgage payments or student loans. Public servants are begin told to keep careful track of all their expenses.
On Thursday afternoon, the House of Commons government operations committee (OGGO) is expected to hold an emergency meeting to hear from some of the same officials about the Phoenix meltdown. The public can watch the proceedings live.
The Liberals approved the meeting earlier in the week after the Opposition parties called for more transparency on the issue.