Questions and Answers from Phoenix Next Steps Webinars (June 2018)

On June 14, PIPSC President Debi Daviau hosted a webinar titled Phoenix Next Steps, aimed at promoting solutions and possible alternatives to the current pay fiasco. In particular, she outlined the recently announced collaboration between the Government of Canada and PIPSC to deliver a new sustainable system. 

Three sessions were held in which she answered questions from members and addressed some of their concerns. Here are the highlights of those webinars.

What is the union doing to help members get their pay issues resolved?

Daviau: We are advocating for more compensation advisers because the system is insufficient and these advisers are key resources. A lot of these processes need to be taken care of manually. We are advocating for more resources in these departments so that we have compensation advisers who understand specific issues regarding each department. The government is making changes because of our advocacy. They are increasing resources and offering more assistance. We are now starting to see an improvement in the processing payments.

What is the estimated timeline to develop and put a new pay system into operation?

Daviau: The government has set aside $16 million for the next two years to develop and design a new pay system. Based on their timeline, it does not look like a new system will be implemented during those two years. The way we see it, if we use some of the products already used in government, like the Corporate Administration System (CAS) at the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA), we could potentially start getting some people paid within a year from now. This is a far better option than the six years mentioned by the government.

To what extent has CRA been involved in building the alternative pay system? What are the roadblocks?

Daviau: The CAS was generated by our members at CRA. It handles everything from HR to contracts to pay calculations and was designed for pay. When the system was implemented it was designed to include pay but it was decided that Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) would work with another system.

The CAS system actually calculates our Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and CRA members’ pay right up to gross pay and sends the calculation to Phoenix — 25% of the time, the Phoenix software corrupts the data and our members end up having pay issues.

We went back to the CAS vendor to see if the product can easily be expanded to include the pay module. It can be. Building out the module would take six to nine months and the whole project could be completed in about a year.

We could start paying about 55,000 the CBSA and CRA federal employees using that system – and although that wouldn’t be a solution for the rest of our members, it would remove some of the burdens from Phoenix, the Miramichi pay centre and the manual calculations related to Phoenix. CAS requires a small expansion, but it is fully functional, maintained by our members, and could pay our members in the interim.

I’m not ready to say this is the future system, but I firmly believe it is a solution to pay some members more quickly.

So why is the government not implementing this system?

Daviau: The government may be gun shy after the failure of Phoenix, but the Phoenix fiasco happened because there was no proper oversight. We will keep trying to convince the government to examine this option. We are also having a lot of success in looking at other options.

When will a final Phoenix pay system be in place?

Daviau: We continue to press the Treasury Board to identify timelines. From our perspective, if we had started working on the CAS project it would be completed in a year or two. The longer we wait to begin working on this alternative, the longer it will take to finish those projects. If we wait to procure these projects, go through the whole contracting process, and then build a new system, it will take many years, which is why you heard the government mention six more years.

We believe we have products on deck that are almost functional and would only require small changes to be made. If we try a pilot project like the one with CRA, we can see if it works. If it works, we can transfer it to other departments; if not, we won’t transfer anyone to it.

To me, the only risk is that we don’t act.

I can no longer wait to get paid correctly, what can you do about that?

Daviau: I believe you will never get paid correctly until we have a new pay system. This is why we’re looking at alternative systems. Our solution uses a product that is fully functional including calculating pay right up to gross pay. Using a system like that would be faster, it would be a cheaper, and it would be maintained by our members.

Should I still be filing grievances about my pay issues?

Daviau: Definitely! Whenever you have a pay issue, file a grievance. You will also need to invest in every step in that grievance.

By documenting your situation, we’re able to make sure that your individual rights are respected. These grievances also provide us with much-needed information for our advocacy work, to know what our members’ needs and priorities are, and to identify trends. Evidence-based information and stories from our members help us advocate to find a solution to the current pay system.

We have also filed policy grievances, so we will likely be able to cover off the bulk of situations that our members are having.

I have outstanding pay issues that keep getting marked as resolved by the pay centre. They do not show up in “Track My Case” and the only way I find out they are closed is when I call again and find out it was resolved without any communication with me. My issues are not resolved and still outstanding. What are my options to ensure I have a compensation advisor I can talk with?

Daviau:

  1. Get in touch with your Member of Parliament. They are very motivated to help and may have their own mechanisms for placing a priority on your file.
  2. Get in touch with the leadership at PSPC. If you inform them directly they may feel compelled to do something about it. Of course, PIPSC will bring those issues on your behalf as we attend national Union Management Consultation Committee (UMCC) meetings.
  3. Personally, the best way I found to get member’s issues resolved as quickly as possible is to go to the media. I know it is not the first gut reaction many have as professionals. However, we have been very patient in giving the employer time to resolve these issues. I do encourage members to talk to the media and reach out to reporters. Most people who get a couple of minutes on national television will have action on their files in the following days. Nobody seems to be punished for fighting for their pay. We have staff resources able to help with media outreach. If you choose to go this route, contact bettertogether@pipsc.ca.
  4. Finally, we have a page where you can share your story, which really helps during our UMCC meetings because we get to humanize the issue. It also helps our team better understand our members’ priorities and helps us focus our strategy.
The responses received from the pay centre and the union have not been adequate. Is there any opportunity for us to access a specialist who can actually look at our pay, understand the complexity of our pay system, and identify issues?

Daviau: The government has been making changes to try to address the situation. They ran a pilot project out of the Miramichi centre that involved various departmental colleagues working in “pods.” As a result, they now have a better understanding of the pay rules within departments.

Many departments have now built in-house teams with access to the software to deal with issues directly. Hopefully, this will help alleviate some of the concerns our members are having and the time it takes to address their issues.

From our perspective, we were forced to react because we had been getting inaccurate information from PSPC. We were told that the collective agreements were implemented successfully.

We didn't have a crystal ball to foresee the unfortunate situation we are now in.

Today at PIPSC, we have increased our capacity to help our members through this process. In the last few months, we ’ve undertaken more steward training, providing them with toolkits and templates so that they can help you file grievances and take action. We now have a coordinator for Phoenix and have allocated more and more employment relations officers and administrative resources so that we can clear up our backlog. I admit, people were waiting too long for a response from PIPSC, but now we have additional resources in place and improved our capacity immensely over the past year.

Will interest or penalties be added to our next collective agreement to address the late or missing retro pay?

Daviau: We are actively engaged in negotiations with other bargaining agents and the employer to address these questions. The damage caused to people has been substantial and the interest can mean a lot of money. We are trying to figure out what the compensation structure and the amount would look like. There is no question — people need to be compensated. Every public servant has been affected by this. Every public servant logs into the system every other Monday worrying whether or not they will get the right paycheque. Nothing could change in your file and you could still be affected. I urge you not to put your career on hold. Chances are you may be affected anyway.

Members who have issues with their pay under Phoenix have been asked to sign forms in the workplace to inform management of their situation. Are these documents making their way back to PIPSC and other unions? If not, what is being done with the information provided? There seems to be little or no progress to these Phoenix issues.

Daviau: I think in most cases these documents only cover off issues you have already noticed. The employer does not share these documents with the union, but I encourage you to ask for more information. Every department has a different process in place now to expedite pay issues and it may be that your department implemented this process to help with the issues. If you are not sure, don’t sign anything without asking a steward or an employment relations officer so that they make sure your rights are respected going forward.

Should IBM be sued for the Phoenix pay system or is it more of a government failure?

Daviau: We were disappointed that the Auditor General did not mention that aspect with IBM in his most recent report. But the Auditor General was right in identifying where it went wrong during the implementation and that was not necessarily IBM. They are a corporation looking to make money and they got a very lucrative contract. The people who could be blamed are the people in the government who were handling this contract. You could say a company like IBM should’ve known better and when they identified risks related to the lack of testing and training, but the department said: “go ahead anyway.” If I were IBM I would have refused. It is very unfortunate that they put the bottom line ahead of the wellness of the system.

Can the old system that was scrapped be used as a starting point?

Daviau: I think it is one of the many options they ought to consider, given that the current pay system simply cannot be fixed. The only problem with the old system was that it was supported by a human resources system that no longer exists. I hear the old servers are still in place and could be leveraged. Of course, two years later the data is outdated, and it would be quite an effort to re-enact that system. I don’t think it would be the best way for people to get paid as quickly as possible.

Why was that system scrapped in the first place?

Daviau: It was forty years old. The pay system needed some modernization. In fact, the pay experts using that system found it cumbersome and there was not much automation, which meant there was a lot of extra effort because the system was quite out of date. That being said, it was working. It was a 40-year-old system that had been maintained very well over the years. It wasn’t the most robust system, but it worked. They should never have taken this system down without having a fully tested, fully operational pay system to replace it. That is what they did terribly wrong.

To learn more about how to get involved in the campaign to Nix Phoenix, visit: https://action.pipsc.ca/nixphoenix.

 



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