Phoenix: Questions and answers

Background

 

 

I have not received my correct pay. What should I do?

The government has important information with instructions about what to do if you are having pay issues

  • Tell your manager.
  • Carefully document the problems you are having
  • Report your pay issue using the Phoenix feedback form or by calling the call centre at 1‑855‑686‑4729.
  • If you need money urgently, you can request “priority pay” or an emergency salary advance. Speak to your manager about these options.
  • Priority pay is issued by departments and can be issued within 24 to 48 hours. The amount paid represents 66% of an employee’s gross pay.
  • To request an emergency salary advance (ESA), your manager must complete a Pay Action Request form which asks basic information like your PRI number.
  • Follow up. If you have already been assigned a case number from the Pay Centre, you may either use the online Phoenix Case Status Request form to receive a status update or phone the call centre directly at 1-855-686-4729. We know that it may be difficult to get an answer right away, given the volume of inquiries. However, it is still important to register the problem by calling and/or filling in the web form.
  • For other information about pay, see Pay for the Public Service

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How long will it take to resolve my pay issue?

This will depend on what the issue is. The employer has put pay issues into three priority categories:

Priority #1: Employee not receiving any pay. These should be resolved by your next pay day, if the pay centre has all of the necessary information. If they need more information, they will request that information and resolve the issue by the following pay period i.e. within two pay periods.

Priority #2: Employees with pay at risk of disruption. These employees include those whose pay has been affected by going on maternity leave or long-term disability or those exiting the public service. These should be resolved within 6 weeks.

Priority #3: All other employees who have not been paid properly. Public Service and Procurement says that the cases reported by June should be resolved by October 31. They have not indicated when cases reported after June will be resolved. 

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If I get an emergency salary advance how will they recover the money?

The union is meeting regularly with senior representatives from Treasury Board and PSPC to discuss and make recommendations about how emergency salary advances and other overpayments will be recovered. One of our key concerns is to ensure that our members are not further hurt financially by the recovery process. The other is to ensure that they aren’t disadvantaged because the overpayments have impacted their tax status. A special committee is being set up to deal with these issues and is expected to come to a fair and timely resolution.

Currently the employer has stopped all recovery payments until they are confident that employees who have experienced incorrect or no pay have had their situation resolved. The employer will be preparing a communiqué to all employees asking them to come forward if they have an overpayment in order to make reasonable recovery arrangements.  This communiqué should explain possible tax implications, clearly describe the recovery process and explain how employees should proceed. 

Please cc. your component president should you want to repay any overpayments immediately.

We hope that complete details regarding how all overpayments will be recovered will be released in the early weeks of October.

Further updates will be posted on the Phoenix website.

 

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When will problems with allowances, acting pay, and overtime be resolved?

As indicated above, these cases are in “Priority #3”. Public Service and Procurement (PSPC) says that the cases reported by June should be resolved by October 31. They have not indicated when cases reported after June will be resolved. 

Updates will be posted on the Phoenix website.

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I am retiring. Will I have problems receiving my pension because of Phoenix?

Retiring members should follow the normal procedure, which is sending the government pension centre a letter of intent with an end date from your department.

Phoenix has caused problems regarding the removal of employees from the pay system. This process is called Struck-off Strength, or SOS. This impacts retiring employees because you cannot begin receiving pension payments if you are still in the pay system.

If this happens, you can submit a Phoenix feedback form or call the call centre at 1-855-686-4729 to report the issue. The Pay Centre will then follow up. We know that it may be difficult to get an answer right away, given the volume of inquiries. However, it is still important to register the problem by calling and/or filling in the web form.

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I am off on disability leave but have not received my disability insurance payments from SunLife. What can I do?

Phoenix has caused delays in disability insurance (DI) payments because information from the employer has not been sent to SunLife to complete the DI application process. SunLife has told PSAC that they cannot process DI claims until they have all of the information. We are working with the employer and with SunLife to address these problems.

If you are in this situation, you should complete a Phoenix feedback form or call the call centre at 1-855-686-4729 to let them know about your situation. Since you are receiving no pay, your situation should be considered Priority #1.  We know that it may be difficult to get an answer right away, given the volume of inquiries. However, it is still important to register the problem by calling. and/or filling in the web form.

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What do I do if I have been cut off from or not been enrolled in health benefits because of Phoenix?

See: Temporary change in process: Group insurance benefit plans administration (Sept 1, 2015 to March 31, 2017) for the Pay Centre

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What do I do if I need a Record of Employment (ROE) but have not received one?

The Phoenix pay system has been inconsistent in issuing ROEs. Service Canada is aware of this problem and will issue an ROE if you require one. Please contact Service Canada to advise them of your situation and to initiate this process.

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Will there be compensation for employees who have had expenses because of pay problems?

PSAC continues to advocate to make the compensation process as fair as possible. The Treasury Board’s offer to compensate public service workers for Phoenix-related losses came in the wake of PSAC demands and a court application filed by PSAC and several other public service unions.

The claim process and forms for compensation can be found on the Phoenix website.

It is important to keep all receipts and documents for any out-of-pocket expenses that you have incurred because of Phoenix-related pay problems.

The union is currently working to ensure that a fair and efficient recourse system is established.

We are advising members not to sign any departmental release form if they are unsatisfied with the result of the Phoenix claims process, as this may affect their right to grieve.

Any member who has concerns or questions about a departmental release form should contact their union representative immediately.

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What if my pay problems have impacted my taxes?

The Canada Revenue Agency has posted some questions and answers on their website, including the following:

  • How do over/under payments affect personal income tax for employees?
  • What if an employee receives an advance in 2016?
  • What if an employee receives an overpayment (due to a payroll system error) in 2016 but does not repay until 2017?
  • What if an employee is underpaid in 2016 but does not receive their corrected salary until 2017?
  • What would the tax implications be for an employee who withdraws money from their RRSP/TFSA Investments?
  • What would the tax implications be if an employee receives salary overpayments while they are on unpaid leave (maternity leave etc…)?
  • Will employees be taxed on any compensatory payments received from the employer for financial charges (NSF charges, utilities penalty charges, interest on credit cards)?

All of the answers can be found on the CRA website.

See Question 3 for further information.

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What is the government doing to fix these problems?

  • The department has hired 90 additional staff in Miramichi.
  • The government has also opened satellite pay centres in Gatineau, Montreal, and Shawinigan, with additional staff to help deal with the backlog of pay problems. 
  • Other measures taken to address the problems are detailed on the government’s website.
  • Updates on the progress made are posted on the Phoenix website as well.

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What is the Union doing?

PSAC has been voicing our members’ concerns with the government since before the system was rolled out.

Most recently, we have taken the following actions:

  • We have filed a policy grievance against PSPC and Treasury Board, citing the employer’s failure to ensure ways to minimize adverse impacts on employees, and its failure to create adequate training.
  • We filed an unfair labour practice complaint against the employer and appeared before  the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board during  the week of September 12, 2016. We believe that by not providing timely and accurate pay to its employees, the employer has changed the conditions of employment during collective bargaining. This is prohibited under the Public Service Labour Relations Act.  At the Tribunal hearing, PSAC asked the Board to order the employer to timely and accurately pay its employees and to compensate our members for the damages caused by the implementation of the Phoenix pay system.
  • Working with other federal bargaining agents, PSAC has filed a complaint to the Federal Court asking for Treasury Board and the Attorney General of Canada to implement a pay administration system that meets its obligations under the FAA and the Directive on Terms and Conditions of Employment.
  • PSAC leaders have been actively speaking to the media to bring government attention and direction to this important issue. 
  • We are meeting with executive management of PSPC regularly to expedite problems and to press PSPC to fix the pay system.
  • PSAC is continuing to lobby the government to take immediate emergency action to retain additional trained government pay and benefits specialists to address pay problems until the they are fixed.

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Should I file a grievance?

If you want to file a grievance, speak to your local shop steward or Component union representative before proceeding.

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I have heard that there are privacy breaches. Has my personal information been compromised?

In July, the media reported that there had been privacy breaches associated with Phoenix.

PSAC asked in May if there were privacy concerns associated with the new Phoenix pay system, and were assured that there were not. The PSPC did not alert the union that members’ privacy had been breached. 

The Deputy Minister of Public Works confirmed the incidents in an open letter to staff posted on the department’s website on Thursday, July 21.

The department admits that employee names, pay amounts, and PRIs were used by IBM when they were testing Phoenix. They also admit that about 70,000 managers had access to information about all federal government employees between February and April of 2016. The letter says that the problems are fixed.

Minister Foote says that the department has advised her that the Privacy Commissioner was alerted to the breaches in April. She asked him to look at it again.

PSAC isn’t convinced that we have all the information about this privacy breach. Nor do we understand why PSPC hid this information from the union.

Accordingly, PSAC President, Robyn Benson wrote a letter to the Privacy Commissioner asking him to thoroughly investigate this issue, so that public service workers can be assured that their personal information has not been compromised, and if it has what the consequences ought to be. 

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Why didn’t the government foresee these kinds of problems?

Although everyone agreed that the old pay system needed to be updated, the Conservative government used the requirement for modernization as an opportunity to cut jobs. Like other cuts and privatization initiatives, there was no evidence that they could make these cuts without consequences.

PSAC 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. Our requests were largely ignored, and the rollout went ahead. Public service workers are paying the price.

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How has the pay system changed? Why is the government introducing this new pay system?

The Consolidation of Pay Services Project combined pay services from participating departments and agencies at the Public Service Pay Centre in Miramichi, NB. Compensation advisors in departments were given the option to move to Miramichi, but most did not. Many new staff were hired and trained for the Centre.

The Pay Modernization Project replaced the government’s outdated regional computer pay system with "Phoenix," a new software system. There are some organizations like CRA and CBSA that are being serviced by their own internal departmental compensation advisors instead of those in Miramichi but are still using the Phoenix system.

The creation of the Miramichi Pay Centre and the launch of Phoenix are part of the employer’s “Transformation of Pay Administration” initiative. The Public Service Pay Centre’s website explains the government’s reasoning for the changes to the pay system.

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What types of problems are there with the rollout of the new system?

The rollout of the Phoenix system has had many problems, including:

  • an inability to recognize and properly compensate shift workers
  • overtime and compensatory time not being recorded properly or paid out
  • certain allowances not being programmed into the system
  • employees not receiving their Record of Employment
  • income taxes not being properly calculated
  • employees being deleted from the system and not getting paid at all
  • certain employees, like those working on ships for the Coast Guard, are not only having problems getting paid, they also do not have access to e-post or to the call centre while at sea
  • no information provided to the insurer (Sun Life) to allow for insurance payments to members, including those on DI
  • overpayments due to medical leaves not being properly recorded
  • lack of a timely process to activate new pension files
  • delays in entering new hires, summer students and casual employees into the system
  • delays in new retirees receiving pension payments
  • breaches in privacy

As well, certain types of pay and allowances are not being properly accounted for and paid out, such as:

  • pay for leave with income averaging
  • maternity and parental leave allowances (top-ups)
  • reintegration back into the workplace (e.g. employees on a combination of return to work and Sun Life)
  • salary increments
  • acting pay
  • disability insurance payments

The training on the Phoenix system has been inadequate and poorly administered. The staff of the Pay Centre, who are members of PSAC’s Government Services Union component, are experiencing constant workplace stress. As of July 25, 50 workers of the 590 now employed at Miramichi are believed to be on long-term stress leave. The problems just seem to be getting worse. Phoenix reference materials are almost non-existent.

The new pay system isn’t working properly. Over 80,000 employees have not been paid properly.

Incorrect pay is creating situations where personal cheques are bouncing and people cannot pay their bills.

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Why are there so many problems with the pay system?

There are three systemic problems with the new pay system:
 

  1. 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.
     
  2. 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.
     
  3. 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.

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September 23, 2016
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