Canadian public servants frustrated by Phoenix compensation delay

By on 09/06/2022 | Updated on 09/06/2022

Three former public servants have spoken out about the stress caused by delays to compensation payments they say they are owed after suffering hardship due to the botched Phoenix pay system.

One man, who said anxiety caused by pay issues led to a yearlong depression during which he admitted himself to a psychiatric ward and was put on suicide watch by his doctor, said the government only recently acknowledged a claim he lodged in January after his MP applied pressure on his behalf.

The centralised system for proce3w2e45635e3r34345ew344rssing public service salaries was introduced in 2016. Since then, a series of technical problems and flawed record keeping has led to more than half of Canada’s 290,000 public servants either being underpaid, overpaid, or not paid at all

Some of those affected have told Canadian news outlet CBC that they have “zero faith” in the damages claims process, that the federal government is “dragging its heels”, and that they will fight “aggressively” to get what they are owed.

Read more: New claims process for staff affected by Phoenix pay failure

The government resolved to pay eligible employees C$2,500 (US$1,990) in general damages as part of agreements with various unions in 2019 and 2020. Those who endured severe financial and personal hardship at the hands of Phoenix, such as losing their homes, ruined credit ratings, or developing mental health issues, can apply for higher compensation after the government launched a separate claims process late last year.

However, the former public servants expressed frustration over long wait times for the compensation and poor communications from the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat’s claims team.

‘The anxiety built and built’

The former employee who enlisted the help of his MP does not wish to be named but worked for Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada until 2018, according to CBC. He told the broadcaster that the government kept clawing money from him even though he had already repaid over C$8,000 (US$6,370) in overpayments made to him as a result of Phoenix failures.

“The anxiety built and built and built and I eventually self-admitted myself to [the] psychiatric ward,” he told CBC. “My doctor had me on a suicide watch. He insisted that he either see me or talk to me weekly. And my family was terrified.”

More than four months after submitting his damages claim, he said he got “fed up” and spoke to his local elected representative, after which the secretariat contacted him asking him to submit additional documents.

“If I did not go to my [MP], my file wouldn’t have been actioned… I have zero faith. And from what I have experienced, I’m going to have to keep putting pressure on,” he said.

“I’m predicting that after I submit this documentation, I’ll have to go back to my member of Parliament, become aggressive with [the] process itself, and push.”

‘Dragging their heels’

Grant Dyck who retired from the Canada Revenue Agency in 2019 due to a disability, is another of those to have spoken about his experience of trying to claim damages.  

In a video published by CBC, he said he experienced a series of pay discrepancies during his time at the agency and that the pension amount he is paid every month remains unstable due to Phoenix miscalculations.

“I can’t plan, I can’t assume that I’m actually going to ever get paid from the government for what’s owed to me,” Dyck said.  

The former tax account examiner who audited payrolls as part of his government job added that “to best of my knowledge, I cannot fathom what I should be paid, what is due to me, or what I owe the government and I did that professionally for five years. So it’s that confusing”.  

Read more: Canadian unions agree Phoenix compensation deal

Though he qualified for the C$2,500 general damages claim and was told in a letter from the government that he would be paid on 2 February, he said he had not yet received the money. He submitted a claim for higher compensation under the ‘anguish’ category in December, citing that Phoenix compounded his anxiety and depression, but said his submission had not been acknowledged.

“They’re just dragging their heels over this,” Dyck said. 

Howard Blinn, who used to work for the Canadian Coast Guard in Halifax, is also waiting to hear back after applying for damages in December. “The claims process is, I suppose, like the rest [of] the Phoenix fiasco,” he wrote to CBC. “I don’t have any faith in the Liberal [government] to fix this anytime soon.”

Martin Potvin, a spokesperson for the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, said in an email to CBC that depending on the complexity of the claim, it could take up to “several months” to process. He said nearly 94% of general damages claims have been resolved, and that since the launch of the latest claims programme in late 2021, just under half of the claims for severe damages have been resolved.

Phoenix remains the government’s pay system until its replacement, dubbed NextGen, is completed. A pilot is underway, but it will be years before the new system is implemented.

Phoenix was meant to save C$70m (US$52m) per year. As of April this year, it had cost taxpayers C$2.4bn (US$1.9bn).

In March, Chris Aylward, national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), called for a public inquiry into Phoenix mismanagement.

“We may never see the true scope and impact of this unmitigated disaster on workers and taxpayers unless a national public inquiry is launched. How else can we hold the government accountable and make sure the same mistakes will never be repeated?” he said.

Read more: Canadian government races to collect Phoenix overpayments as deadline looms

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About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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