State of Phoenix: eight years of the pay debacle

This week marks yet another unfortunate milestone in the history of a pay system that continues to harm hundreds of thousands of federal public service workers. From an overwhelming backlog in pay transactions to compromised opportunities for career advancement and delayed retirement plans, this pay system continues to take a heavy toll on our members.  

In year eight of this disaster, here’s the current state of Phoenix, its ongoing impact on workers, and what PSAC is doing to make workers whole. 

A growing backlog of pay files and stress 

As of January 2024, there remains a staggering 444,000 pay transactions in the backlog, both old and new. In addition, month over month since 2021, the number of cases that have been unresolved with the Public Service Pay Centre for at least one year has only gone up.  

Members continue to experience massive delays in the timely processing of all pay transactions. Although 25 days is the service standard, the median – or middle point – for the resolution of pay issues is 182 days. Of these cases, almost half are more than a year old.  

Eight years later, there’s no end in sight to the frustration and anxiety Phoenix continues to cause. Of the total cases in the backlog, more than 75% are not being processed within service standards, leaving many workers waiting two years or more to see their pay issues resolved. There are more than 56,000 pay file terminations in the backlog, about 1,000 of them having severance owed to members.  

There are also more than 16,000 pay file transfers from workers who’ve changed jobs or departments who still aren’t getting their correct pay. Pay file transfer cases often trigger a domino effect on members leading to a multitude of pay issues to resolve, such as receiving correct pay, correct overtime, or acting pay. 

Hundreds of thousands more cases from workers who didn’t start getting paid when they returned from maternity or disability leave, or who are waiting for their new rates of pay, retroactive payments or other money owed to them. 

In almost every single case, there is money owed to members. Members’ ability to take on acting opportunities are inevitably tarnished because of inaccurate pay issues and implications on members’ leave banks.  

Government continues to claw back overpayments 

The initial wave of the government’s overpayment recover process took federal public service workers by surprise. Thousands received letters regarding overpayments from 2016, and members continue to face impacts of this heavy-handed approach to recovering overpayments. 

To add insult to injury, after admitting the next potential fix for Phoenix is still years away, the government has diverted the only real solution to current pay problems – compensation staff – away from tackling the enormous backlog of pay issues. Instead, they’ve begun an aggressive claw back of overpayments from tens of thousands of workers because the government’s ability to have that money paid back expires after six years, dating back to when Phoenix launched in 2016. 

Strict administration of overpayments results in mistrust of a system that impacts members’ pay and livelihoods. Instead of being provided clear and transparent details, members are forced to accept information in letters sent from the pay centre that they cannot independently verify and as a result, are forced to accept under duress.  

These tactics force members into a corner where they are left in a state of uncertainty.  

Claims for severe impact 

As part of the Phoenix damages agreement PSAC negotiated in 2020, PSAC secured a new claims process for workers to be reimbursed for “out-of-pocket” expenses and severe damages caused by the broken pay system.   

The process was introduced so that all members have the chance to be compensated for severe impacts and hardships they endured above and beyond the $1,500 in general damages for pain and suffering PSAC negotiated on behalf of all members. 

As part of the current agreement, claims only cover losses from April 1, 2016, to March 31, 2020. This week, PSAC formally called on Treasury Board to begin negotiations to extend the severe impact claims process from 2020 to today and beyond as members continue to be impacted by pay issues four years later.  

It’s also unacceptable that Treasury Board continues to reject severe impact claims at an alarming rate – more than 75% of claims have been rejected, denying justice for workers severely impacted by Phoenix. 

The Treasury Board Claims Office also typically undervalues the claims that are accepted. 

PSAC is working to changes the criteria used by the Claims Office to assess claims so that members may be fairly compensated for severe losses and hardship they’ve endured. 

What PSAC is fighting for  

Last week, in a victory for PSAC members impacted by the Phoenix pay fiasco, PSAC secured an agreement with the Canada Revenue Agency to treat up to $1,500 of the Phoenix general damages compensation members received in 2021 as non-taxable.   

Unfortunately, our work to resolve the Phoenix pay disaster is far from over. Our members continue to be plagued by pay issues, and deserve to be paid accurately and on time every pay period and to be compensated for the ongoing financial hardships they are enduring resulting from the employer’s mismanagement of their pay.  

On the anniversary of Phoenix, PSAC continues to call on the government to:  

  • Provide more detailed information about the recovery of overpayments for workers;   

  • Improve communication by allowing workers to speak directly to a compensation advisor about their case;  

  • Clearly outline workers’ obligations around the six-year statute of limitations to pay back the overpayment. 

  • Launch a national inquiry into the Phoenix pay disaster. 

Next Generation 

The road to a new pay system that could one day replace Phoenix is still years away. The federal government has begun testing the viability of Ceridian’s Dayforce pay platform as the next generation pay system, and have been testing the system in select departments since 2022. 

They will now expand their testing to other departments and agencies in the spring of 2024. 

PSAC continues to emphasize to the government that any new system cannot be introduced to the federal public service without considering the expertise and input from bargaining agents representing those workers and the compensation staff who are responsible for processing pay transactions.  

Continuing to advocate for members 

Every day, PSAC members, retirees and former members come to our Phoenix team for help with their severe pay issues when they have nowhere else to turn.  

Despite promises made by the federal government to ‘fix Phoenix’, eight years later, the standard waiting period for any payroll-related problems to be addressed has grown to two years. Whether workers are overpaid, underpaid or not paid at all, Phoenix problems continue to seriously impact federal workers paid by the broken system. 

That’s why our dedicated Phoenix team supports hundreds of members every month and escalates severe pay issues to ensure members with serious pay problems receive the help they need. 

Members across the country also continue to lobby Members of Parliament to push the government to take action and ensure that Canada’s largest employer gets this right. To get involved in lobbying efforts in your region, contact your Regional Office.  

If you or someone you know is affected by the Phoenix pay disaster and needs help, contact PSAC’s Phoenix team by selecting one of the Phoenix options in the “What is your inquiry about?” drop down menu.  

If you want to know more about what compensation you’re entitled or find out more about our ongoing work pushing the government to fix the Phoenix nightmare, browse the resources on our Phoenix page. 


March 1, 2024