Phoenix: Questions and answers

UPDATED April 24, 2017

Background

 

 

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

If your pay is being administered from within your department, agency or organization, use the procedures outlined by them.

If your pay is being administered by Miramichi, follow the instructions below.

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 contacting the call centre at 855‑686‑4729 or if you are outside Canada and the U.S. at 506-424-4330.
  • You will be required to provide the following information:
    • personal record identifier (PRI)
    • telephone number
    • department or agency
    • first and last names
  • 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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What do I do if I need money urgently?

If you need money urgently, you can request priority pay or an emergency salary advance

Priority Payments

  • Priority payments can be used when there is a disruption of pay for an existing employee or a former employee whose pay has been impacted by Phoenix.
  • It is a payment issued by your department on a priority basis for amounts employees are entitled to and for whom it has created a financial hardship situation.
  • This applies to employees who have not received all the monies they are owed because of processing delays for their regular or acting pay, their allowances (including maternity and parental allowance), overtime, extra duty payments, and salary increases related to a promotion or a pay increment.
  • The amount of a priority payment is 66% of monies owed; this represents the amount after tax that you would normally receive.
  • Priority payments will later be recovered from your regular pay. The recovery and the money owed to you may not be processed on the same pay stub.
  • If you need a priority payment, provide your manager with the reason for the missing amount (acting, increment, wrong rate of pay, etc.) and the dates that apply (increment date, promotion, acting period, etc.)
  • Once your information is verified, you will receive a confirmation of the amount owed and information on the recovery process. Only then will a priority payment be issued. 
  • If you believe that you have been unfairly denied a priority payment contact your union representative and also report the problem through the Phoenix feedback form.

Emergency Salary Advances

  • Emergency salary advances provide new employees, and employees returning from leave without pay, an advance on their pay until their pay file in Phoenix can be brought up-to-date.
  • The amount of an emergency salary advance is 66% of monies owed; this represents the amount after tax that you would normally receive.
  • Your department is responsible for issuing emergency salary advances.
  • To request and emergency salary advance:
    • Tell your manager that you are having a pay issue.
    • Your manager will confirm that after initial appointment, rehire or return-to-work, you have not received any pay by the second payday (because we are paid in arrears).
    • Your manager can help you determine the reason for the issue and help you get an emergency salary advance through your department’s internal processes.
    • If the required conditions determined by your department are met, work with your manager to complete the appropriate paperwork and submit it.

Other situations where you may qualify for Emergency Payments

  • If you are transitioning to maternity, parental or disability leave, and your benefit payments have not started because of Phoenix, you are entitled to a priority payment if normal wait times for processing these payments have been exceeded.
  • The employer cannot deny you emergency salary or priority pay simply because you would not ordinarily be entitled to a pay cheque while on unpaid leave. This includes 66% of the total income you would otherwise receive and not only the top up portion.
  • If you are in this situation, write the following letter with the appropriate information included and either email or send it to your manager and your deputy head.

Dear Manager (insert name and email address):

On (xxx date) I went onto approved (maternity, parental or disability) leave. It has now been (xx) days since that leave began, and the necessary paper work to allow my (EI or disability) claim to be processed has not been generated by the phoenix pay system.

Please immediately process a request for emergency or priority pay reflecting my full salary entitlement, as I currently find myself in circumstances of financial hardship, as per paragraph three of the letter sent to our department by Ms. Yaprak Baltacioglu, Secretary of the Treasury Board on March 23, 2017, in compliance with the order of the Federal Court dated December 22, 2016.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter which critically impacts my financial circumstances.

 

 

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How long will it take to resolve my pay issue?

This will depend on what the issue is and how well service standards are currently being met at the pay centre and across government in general. If there are any delays in inputting pay information by your manager, HR advisor or any other person who has financial authority it could slow the ability of Phoenix to administer your pay in a timely way.

Cases where employees are receiving no pay are prioritized and should be resolved within one or two pay periods.

Cases involving employees going on parental or disability leave are also considered priorities.

For other cases, the time it takes will vary.

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How will the employer recover monies that I must repay?

See Tax and repayment information for employees

PSAC has met regularly with Treasury Board to work out conditions for recoveries that will not create additional financial hardship. We also wanted to ensure that members are not disadvantaged because overpayments have impacted their tax status.

The employer will not begin recovery of monies they are owed until they are confident that employees who have experienced incorrect or no pay have had their situation resolved. If you are unable to repay monies that you received in accordance with the terms outlined on this website, you should talk to your employer about alternative repayment terms. 

If you believe that a repayment schedule will create further hardships alert your manager, explain why, and ask for a more relaxed payment schedule. Departments have been advised that if payment options impose financial hardship, then you may request a different repayment arrangement over an extended period.

 

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

PSAC is pushing the employer to resolve these problems as quickly as possible. The pay centre has said that it hopes to be meeting its service standards on these types of cases by the summer or autumn of 2017.

Updates on their progress in dealing with different types of cases will be provided regularly on  Public Service Procurement Canada’s website.

It’s important to keep in mind that these are pay centre service standards. Improvements on government service standards depend on how quickly information is entered into the applicable systems within your department.

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

You may experience delays in receiving your pension because your termination information may take longer than it should to reach the Pension Centre. The ordinary service standard is 20 days, but the Employer isn’t meeting that standard consistently. 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.

If you experience delays, 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.

There have been numerous instances where severance pay is late as well. This problem is made worse because retired public service employees can’t access the Phoenix pay system. If this occurs, contact your former department immediately and advise them that this is the case. If the you still are experiencing delays in severance or pension payments, please contact the union and we will take steps to escalate your case.

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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. 

At the urging of the union, special measures have been put in place to address the Phoenix-related backlog of DI claims.

Special arrangements have been put in place with Sun Life to fast-track your claim if you are experiencing Phoenix problems. If you are awaiting DI and the following circumstances apply, immediately inform your manager:

  1. you are experiencing financial hardship
  2. your Employer Statement is delayed
  3. you have completed the 13-week waiting period or you have used up all banked sick leave (whichever is longer)
  4. you are not already receiving EI benefits

Your manager must consider directing Sun Life to provide you with up to 6 months of benefits in advance of your completed claim adjudication, provided the insurer has received your Employee Statement and your Attending Physician Statement.

Employees who are on a graduated return to work are also experiencing problems receiving pay because Sun Life isn’t receiving the information they need to make partial payments in a timely fashion.

If you are experiencing financial hardship you may also apply for priority payments.

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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: Group insurance benefit plans administration for the Public Service Pay Centre

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

Always apply for EI benefits as soon as you stop working. Before you can start receiving EI benefits, there is a one-week waiting period for which you will not be paid EI. Your government maternity or parental benefits provide a supplemental payment for this waiting period.

You can apply for EI at a Service Canada office by submitting one of the following:

  • your Record of Employment (ROE)
  • a printed copy of your last pay stub (if your ROE is delayed)

The employer is obligated to provide a Record of Employment (ROE) to Service Canada on your behalf.  Usually this is done electronically. Even though the application process for EI benefits can begin without an ROE, the actual processing of the benefits can be delayed without it. Employees on parental leave do not need their record of employment to apply for employment insurance benefits.

If Service Canada has not received your ROE because of Phoenix, they can provide you with an Interim Record of Employment. You will be required to provide Service Canada with information about your employment status and the pay you normally receive. There may be adjustments to your EI benefits when Service Canada receives the ROE from the Employer. Once Service Canada has your ROE, you can view it electronically by visiting "My Service Canada Account".

Steps to follow:

  1. Print your latest pay stub before you leave work.
  2. Check your home and mailing address in the HR system before you start your leave, and update it if needed.
  3. Apply for EI as soon as you leave work; you will receive EI or QPIP benefits after a one-week waiting period.
  4. Contact your manager and HR unit right away for priority payments if your top-up payment is not processed on-time
  5. Once you are receiving regular top-up payments, make repayment arrangements for any priority payments received.

You must provide the original letter of entitlement or your payment stubs for EI or QPIP benefits to the pay centre as soon as you receive them. This documentation confirms your eligibility to receive your supplemental benefit (top-up) payments.

Subsequent proof of EI payments should be provided to the Pay Centre on a monthly basis.

This documentation should be forwarded to the Pay Centre under cover of a Pay Action Request (PAR) Form.

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

If you experienced a pay problem after your department or agency started using the Phoenix pay system, and you have incurred expenses because of incomplete or inaccurate pay, you should submit a claim.

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.

Your department has been instructed to identify a claims officer who can answer your questions, help you fill out the form, and guide you through the claims process and how to send your completed claim.

You have recourse if you believe that your claim has not been adjudicated in a fair way.

  • You will be advised in writing of your right to grieve when a compensation-related claim is denied.
  • You will be asked to sign a release for claims expenses that have been approved. When a claim is partially denied, those denied expenses are not covered by the release, and you may pursue recourse for those expenses.
  • The release does not preclude you from making future claims for out-of-pocket expenses.
  • Claims related grievances will be dealt with at the final level of the departmental process and a streamlined adjudication process will be implemented.

This process has been recommended for claims related recourse for all departments and organizations who have experienced problems related to the Phoenix pay system.

See also: Frequently Asked Questions on the Government of Canada-Wide Claims Process

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What if my pay problems have impacted my taxes?

The PSPC and CRA websites have posted important information and infographics that help explain the tax implications and consequences of phoenix.

See also: Phoenix and tax implications

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What has PSAC done to push the government to fix and mitigate Phoenix problems?

PSAC did not passively allow Phoenix to happen. Just the opposite – we have been telling the government not to implement the Phoenix pay system since 2011.

The implementation of Phoenix was not the subject of negotiation or consultation. The previous Conservative government decided to merge the pay and benefits services of all federal departments into one centralized service, located in Miramichi, New Brunswick. They removed experienced Compensation Advisors from each department; advisors who knew the collective agreements and the specific pay rules for their individual departments.

PSAC has opposed the employer’s decision to eliminate experienced Compensation Advisor jobs since 2011.  We have been challenging this decision and the subsequent impacts of the Phoenix pay system.

We have done – and continue to do –  everything within our power to help fix the Phoenix pay system problems and address its negative consequences on our members. 

Here is a list of some of the actions we have taken thus far:

  • We have filed a policy grievance against PSPC and Treasury Board, for the employer’s failure to reduce the negative impacts on employees, and its failure to provide adequate training.
  • We have filed an unfair labour practice complaint with the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board against the employer. A hearing was held in September 2016 and we await the decision.
  • 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. A court order has since been secured. This is not the end of the court application. PSAC and the other unions can - and will - head back to the courts if we don't believe the government is working with us to fix the problems caused by Phoenix.
  • We forced the government to rehire Compensation Advisors to help our members receive their correct pay.
  • We are working to support our members in Miramichi pay centre.
  • PSAC leaders have been actively speaking to the media to bring government attention and direction to this important issue. 
  • We meet with executive management of PSPC regularly to expedite problems and to press PSPC to fix the pay system.
  • We have demanded that the employer take extra measures to assist employees whose taxes will be impacted by Phoenix.
  • We successfully demanded that the employer initiate a transparent system for reimbursing employees who have incurred out-of-pocket expenses as result of Phoenix pay problems.
  • We requested a contingency fund of $75 million in the federal budget to help departments and organizations do more work to respond to Phoenix pay problems. The government ignored our suggestion, but we continue to push the government to put the necessary resources into fixing Phoenix.
  • We have written the Clerk of the Privy Council to demand that he recommend that the government provide any funds required to fix Phoenix.
  • We held a national day of action to mark the one-year anniversary of the Phoenix fiasco.
  • We are encouraging all of our members to write to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and your Member of Parliament to keep the pressure on the government to fix Phoenix.

Based on our recommendations and continued pressure, the government has put in place measures to resolve some of the pay problems. Notably, employees can request financial support from their department or agency if they are missing any part of their pay and they can claim for out-of-pocket expenses incurred related to Phoenix pay issues.

PSAC continues to expand our demands of the employer as new Phoenix problems surface or remain unresolved. We have asked the employer to provide interest for lost wages and to reimburse employees whose taxes have been impacted by Phoenix issues for tax preparation services.  We have also asked the employer to reimburse employees for damages.

PSAC has been working in collaboration with the other public service unions to take a number of actions. Collectively, we continue to work with the employer in order to sort out the Phoenix fiasco. There is still much more to do to ensure a pay system that is fully functional.

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Why can’t PSAC file a class action lawsuit on our behalf?

Section 236 of the Public Service Labour Relations Act (PSLRA) prohibits the ability of unions and any public service employee to sue the federal government.

Although a class action lawsuit is not an option, PSAC has taken the government to court and is investigating additional legal actions to address the problems caused by Phoenix.  

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Should I file a grievance?

You have the right to be paid correctly and on-time. However, it is important to keep in mind that, in most cases, filing a grievance will be unlikely to speed up the process or provide any additional benefit.

That being said, we have advised members experiencing serious pay problems (ongoing disruption of regular pay) to file grievances if they are concerned to protect their recourse rights. Such grievances can be put in abeyance – meaning on hold – pending resolution of the pay problem through the pay centre.

The government claims process can provide the best results for reimbursement for additional expenses incurred by members who have experienced pay problems. Please note that if you use the government claims process and disagree with the results, a grievance may be filed at that time.

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

In July 2016, 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 July 21, 2016.

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. 

We have heard of no additional privacy breaches subsequently.

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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 warned PSPC as early as 2011 that it should not cut jobs before a new system was proven to work. PSPC ignored us and continued with cutting compensation advisor jobs.

The union warned the department that they were downloading significant amounts of work to departments and organizations that they were not used to doing and that extensive training was required to prepare them. Inadequate and often voluntary training was provided.

Once the pay system was rolled out, 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 Centre at Miramichi administers pay for 45 departments and organizations employing about 178,000 full time equivalent employees. 54 departments, agencies and organizations use Phoenix but still retain their own compensation advisors. These organizations employ about 88,000 full-time equivalent employees. The ratio of compensation advisors to workers is generally much higher in these organizations.

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 SunLife)
  • salary increments
  • acting pay
  • disability insurance payments

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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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February 28, 2017
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