Canadian unions seek damages after axing of Phoenix pay system

By on 02/04/2018 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Parliament Hill in Ottawa, where many federal government departments are headquartered

The Canadian federal government has opened talks with unions on compensating public servants for the stress caused by the beleaguered Phoenix pay system.

In a joint letter submitted in mid-February, 17 public sector unions called on the government to pay damages to federal employees who have suffered hardship due to the catalogue of errors generated by the computerised pay system over the past two years.

The Trudeau administration indicated in its 2018 budget, which was presented to the House of Commons on 27 February, that it was open to compensating public servants for “the real mental and emotional stress” caused by Phoenix, as reported by CBC.

Cash compensation

Talks between the government and public sector unions over damages “have been advancing” since the budget was announced, the Public Service Alliance of Canada said in a statement on 15 March. Compensation is being sought for “the stress, the time spent dealing with and the catastrophic losses caused by Phoenix pay problems”, it said.

PSAC president Robyn Benson said: “For two years, our members have lived in fear every pay day – they have had their lives turned upside down – and through it all they have continued to show up to work and deliver the services Canadians depend on. An agreement on damages won’t solve everything, but it is an important part of making our members whole.”

The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada confirmed in a statement last week that unions are “moving forward on negotiations with the government” for compensation or damages. However, neither the unions nor Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), which is responsible for Phoenix, have revealed details of the talks.

Bulging backlog

Robyn Benson, national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (Image courtesy: Public Service Alliance of Canada).

The move comes as monthly figures published on a PSPC “dashboard” show that the backlog of pay “transactions beyond the normal workload” dealt with by the federal government rose steadily from 265,000 in June 2017 to a peak of 384,000 in January 2018, when the total number of outstanding transactions reached 633,000.

In February, transactions beyond the normal workload fell by 4,000 to 380,000, leaving 626,000 outstanding transactions. “While the exact number fluctuates daily, it is estimated that more than half of public servants are experiencing some form of pay issue,” the dashboard states, adding that “a continual decline” in the number of outstanding cases is not expected until “later this spring”.

Throughout the nine months covered by the dashboard, the government has failed to meet its target of dealing with 95% of cases inside the “service standard”, with the proportion achieved ranging from 35 to 60%.

In the 2018 budget, the government committed to spending CAN$436.9m (US$338m) over six years to fix the Phoenix system and sort out the backlog of pay and tax problems, as well as CAN$16m (US$12m) over the next two years looking for a replacement for the programme. Phoenix was meant to generate CAN$70m (US$54m) per year in savings for taxpayers.

About Liz Heron

Liz Heron is a journalist based in London. She worked on daily newspapers for more than 16 years as an education correspondent, section editor and general news reporter. She was Education Editor of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and has contributed to a wide range of British media including The Independent, The Guardian and the BBC.


  1. Diane Girouard says:

    I won a grievance mid-summer of 2016 and signed a MOS. I am owed tens of thousands of dollars. I am also owed the increase of the latest PA Collective Agreement and even after all that, I am still NOT paid!!! I think it’s time for a grievance!

    • Martin from Canada says:

      It sounds like it’s past time for a grievance. Why did you not grieve this previously?

      • C L says:

        I requested PSAC assistance with filing a grievance and was re-directed from the grievance process. I was told that the government has dedicated a Director and a DG to handle Phoenix complaints, specifically to cut back on the number of grievances filed. This union is in bed with the employer. So we shouldn’t be expecting anything in terms of resolution never mind compensation. It’s a disgrace.

  2. Fedor says:

    Maybe if you were a returning ISIS or in prison in Guatanemo for killing soldiers your goverment would take care of you and pay you what you are owed…
    Seems that’s how it works now…

    • Jane says:

      with your logic, we can blame the phoenix pay system on anything including Canadian cold winters.

      I am sorry but without specific examples, you sound like an ignorant racist!

  3. Mevlyn Steele says:

    It’s about time the government get involved and compensate Public Servants for hardshipd they have suffered. Not to mention the emotional and mental toll it has taken on us. You can’t simply put a price tag on the anguish we have suffered. However compensating us shows that the government has some kind of understanding for what we are dealing with.

  4. Alex M says:

    My Girlfriend has overpayment, underpayment, no payment towards her pension/union dues and payments as the wrong classification.
    Some of the payment issues are intermittent and others are ongoing. At this point her pay is such a mess it’s very difficult to figure out how much pay she was entitled to in the past two+ years let alone taxes.
    It has been very stressful on us and we just want this figured out soon, definitely feel entitled to damages

  5. Raj Khoyratty says:

    The union leaders must take the members as fools. If the members cannot get paid correctly in accordance with the legally binding contract, how will they get paid with respect to damages. Perhaps the union leaders are too aligned with the employers and cannot see clearly.

  6. T in Alberta says:

    My pay is such a mess. The allowance offered to pay a professional to review my pay over the last two years is not enough. The worry every two weeks about whether or not I will be short paid leaves me not wanting to put out money to determine how much my employer owes me. I might need it to pay my bills. It is not Ok that I need to be responsible for hiring a professional to tell me how much I have been short paid. This does not include acting pay that I have never received. And according to the pay centre it is not their priority. And when does our contract expire? June 2018. How many more years until a new one is signed? Four? Damages would be great, but I have lost faith. Fear is an understatement. If only I had the mental and physical energy to file a grievance. It is not the fault of the department I work for.

  7. Shelley says:

    Hope this includes retirees that have also had ongoing issues since retirement.

  8. Jen Dras says:

    This is why you don’t want big government taking over any aspect of your life if you can help it!!! At first this sounded like typical union pettiness but this really sounds like a nightmare!

  9. Cheryl says:

    If it was the private sector, the government would be all over them to pay their employees and get it right. The stress and financial hardship the government has caused public servants is criminal. People have lost homes, credit ratings have been destroyed! No monetary compensation is going to fix that but it is something. Question would be, are we going to have to wait as long as we do to have our next collective agreements signed?

  10. Sylvie says:

    And there’s also the fact that Revenue Canada is confused as to how much money was collected in income tax in 2016! Big amount here.

  11. HR Advocate says:

    Consideration should also be given for the many sleepless nights by departmental HR managers and compensation staff as they do their best to prevent and fix errors caused by a system and centralization that were implemented against their advice.

  12. Peter says:

    I’m an unrepresented employee. I have been underpaid for the last 2 years, now totalling almost $20,000. If this continues, by next year I will be short $30,000. To top this off this has a severe affect on my pension calculations to the point that I will not be able to afford to retire next year. My plan was for me to retire this April, now I have to wait at least a year, and now even that is probably not doable either. The stress is unbearable.

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