Public servants protest over problems with the Phoenix pay system outside the Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council in Ottawa. The federal government says it’s now taking more than six months, on average, to transfer employees through the troubled Phoenix pay system maze, leaving some frustrated workers short-changed by tens of thousands of dollars. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Government asked to approve more money to ‘stabilize’ Phoenix pay system

OTTAWA — MPs are being asked to approve more spending for “stabilization” of the government’s problem-plagued electronic pay system, including a $14 million loan to the unions representing civil servants.

At the same time, government employees are being warned not to overload government computers with requests for the T4 slips they’ll need to file their 2017 tax returns.

Spending estimates tabled earlier this week in the House of Commons tally the additional expenses related to the Phoenix system at about $186 million, most of which is earmarked for hiring new pay advisers.

However, only about $76.3 million of that is new spending, say officials with Public Services and Procurement Canada, which oversees the pay system.

Of that amount, $56.4 million would be spent essentially hiring new people and buying computers and software, officials said.

If approved by Parliament, the new funding will bring the total cost for Phoenix to nearly $788 million, including the initial $309 million used to set up the troubled system and $402 million the government announced last May that it needed to bring the Phoenix system to a so-called “steady state.”

Since it was launched in early 2016, more than half of all civil servants — roughly 193,000 people — have experienced problems with their paycheques, including being underpaid, overpaid or not paid at all.

The government has experienced difficulties recruiting and retaining qualified workers for its pay offices in Winnipeg, Edmonton and the main pay centre in Miramichi, N.B., and last year resorted to offering incentive packages to prospective administrators.

But more money is needed to hire more people, the Public Services department said.

“This funding will increase capacity for client support and pay transaction processing and will support improvements along the human resources and pay processes continuum,” it said in the estimates document.

Unions representing federal workers have also been struggling with their own finances because the pay fiasco has resulted in them being seriously short-changed on union dues they would normally receive from members.

Officials said $14 million had been allocated to help the unions maintain staffing levels so they can assist members when needed, but stressed the money is a loan that will have to be repaid.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada said it has been calling on the government for months to bolster efforts to hire new pay advisers, and will push that message further in protest rallies expected across the country on Feb. 28, the two-year anniversary of the launch of the Phoenix system.

“Replenish the compensation adviser capacity not only in the pay centres, but also in individual departments and agencies,” said PSAC national vice-president Chris Aylward.

“Hire more people.”

Many of the rally sites will also include “triage tents” to help civil servants with Phoenix issues, said Aylward.

The government issued a statement to employees Thursday, announcing that T4 slips need for tax filing would be available “on a staggered schedule” by the end of the month. But it warned workers to follow access schedules for their specific department or agency to prevent “system slowdowns.”

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