Most federal payroll claims still taking too long to process, deputy minister says

Federal workers are still not getting their pay issues resolved within the government’s service standards 70 to 80 per cent of the time, according to the deputy minister in charge of fixing issues with the payroll system.

Marie Lemay, the deputy minister in charge of the Phoenix payroll system, said the government is working toward handling compensation claims fast enough to comply with the department’s 20-day service standard.

But she told reporters at an update in Ottawa Wednesday afternoon that’s not happening most of the time.

“We’re not processing transactions as quickly as we will when we reach our steady state,” said Lemay. 

“This means that some employees are having to wait too long to receive the money they’ve earned.”​

Backlog still at 18,000 claims

Employees began reporting pay problems almost as soon as the new streamlined Phoenix payroll system rolled out across the country in the spring.

The government said that by June there were more than 80,000 public servants who had reported some pay problems, with the majority being underpaid, while some were overpaid or not paid at all.​

Two weeks ago, that backlog was still at 22,000. This week, Lemay said it is down to 18,000, and that most of the cases pre-date Phoenix and are complicated claims, such as those involving termination.

The backlog also doesn’t include low-priority cases that were not issued before June.

Department 2 months behind

Lemay said a summer spent hiring and training new people and dealing with a backlog of 80,000 cases means the government is now about 200,000 transactions — or two months’ worth of work — behind. Lemay cautions against comparing transactions to cases, however, as most cases involve multiple transactions.

While the government is processing claims faster than they are coming in, she said the extra transactions are affecting the speed with which claims officers can deal with problems as they come up.

The payroll issues have led some employees to turn to the government for financial help. Lemay said the government has received about 1,800 requests for emergency salary advances because of payroll issues since June.

As well, some 177 employees have made claims to be reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses.

While the government insists it continues to work hard to eliminate the backlog and handle new cases as they come, federal employees CBC News has spoken with say they continue to face pay problems.

Employees still facing issues

Bryan, Jayme and Edyth Drummond

Jayme Drummond, right, hasn’t had her maternity leave topped up in months. (Denis Babin/Radio-Canada)

Jayme Drummond, an Environment Canada employee who went on maternity leave in July, said she is owed more than $8,000 in missing pay.

She said she submitted her maternity leave in March, but her request wasn’t processed until the middle of September. She was overpaid, then had the money clawed back, and then wasn’t topped up for her maternity leave.

Her husband, Bryan, had also gone on paternity leave to help look after their newborn daughter, Edyth, adding to their financial stress.

“We’re getting very frustrated,” she said. “We’re getting stressed out and having to put a lot of our life on hold. How is this still happening?

‘There’s no end in sight’

“I haven’t been paid for two months, and I should have been priority No. 1 on top of the pile. And it’s been two months and I’ve still not once heard from [the] pay centre. We have no information and there’s no end in sight.”

Drummond said she and her husband were hoping to travel to see family and show them their newborn, but say that right now, all travel is on hold.

Government officials have said the claims handling process is one that compensation advisors are getting better at as they get up to speed with the Phoenix system, but that some claims are more time-consuming than others.

But Bryan Drummond said they can’t seem to get answers from anyone they speak with.

“Any sort of contact with them is just another runaround,” he said. “Just another circle that keeps going around in a loop. It’s an endless wheel.”