Government misses deadline on Phoenix pay system backlog

Public Services Minister Judy Foote leaves after speaking to the media in Miramichi, N.B., on Wednesday, July 27, 2016.
Public Services Minister Judy Foote leaves after speaking to the media in Miramichi, N.B., on Wednesday, July 27, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ron Ward

The federal government has missed a self-imposed deadline to clear a backlog of 82,000 public service payroll cases stuck in its beleaguered Phoenix system.

“Despite our best efforts we could not completely eliminate the entire backlog,” said deputy minister of Public Works and Government Services Marie Lemay on Monday.

Approximately 75 per cent of the 82,000 cases identified as backlogged by Ottawa as of early July have been handled. Approximately 22,000 cases remain, Lemay said, and most of those (82 per cent) pre-date the implementation of the Phoenix system.

READ MORE: How did this all start, and how did the Phoenix problems get so bad?

The cases still in the queue “are complex and require time-consuming, manual calculations.”

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Lemay did not provide a new deadline.

The computerized payroll program, designed by IBM and rolled out last winter, encountered major problems that officials blamed on a steep learning curve, among other issues.

The federal government is responsible for paying over 300,000 public-sector employees, transactions which total over $20 billion a year.

At the height of the crisis, there were tens of thousands of people encountering problems, although only a few hundred failed to receive any pay whatsoever.

The government had promised to clear the backlog by today, Oct. 31, before moving toward what Lemay has deemed a “steady state” when it comes to the public-service payroll. That means the number of new cases cropping up would be about the same as the number being sorted out each month.

There will never be a glitch-free payroll system, Lemay has said, and there never was in the past.

“We’re working as hard as possible,” she said Monday. “I know it doesn’t always feel like it, but we are making progress.”

That progress has included a doubling of the processing rates since May, mainly thanks to the addition of more staff at call centres across the country.

READ MORE: Phoenix pay system encounters fresh problems

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“We’re getting better and faster,” Lemay noted. “There’s still a lot of work needed to get us to our steady state and there’s no quick fix.”

The deputy minister thanked public servants for their “patience and understanding” over the last few months.

As of last Friday, there had been 133 compensation claims made to the government through a program set up to help people who have suffered financial losses as a result of the Phoenix meltdown.

Of those, 35 were for for more than $500, officials said Monday, and there have been reimbursements made.

Several public service unions have criticized the slow response to the payroll crisis.



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