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New federal pay system will not be rushed, Scott Brison says during P.E.I. stop

Federal Treasury Board President Scott Brison was in P.E.I. Monday to publicize Ottawa’s new parental leave initiatives announced as part of Budget 2018, but fielded questions about the federal government’s troubled Phoenix pay system.
Federal Treasury Board President Scott Brison was in P.E.I. Monday to publicize Ottawa’s new parental leave initiatives announced as part of Budget 2018, but fielded questions about the federal government’s troubled Phoenix pay system. - Teresa Wright

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - The president of the federal Treasury Board says government will not rush into or skimp on a new payroll system that will eventually replace the troubled Phoenix public service pay system. 

Scott Brison says those were the two fatal flaws of the former Conservative government that caused what has become known as the ‘Phoenix fiasco.’

“We will not repeat the mistakes of the previous government, and that is two things – they wanted to do it on the cheap and they wanted to rush the implementation,” Brison said during a visit to Prince Edward Island Monday.

“Those were the two fatal errors that led to the screw-up that is Phoenix.” 

Related: Federal government employees on P.E.I. protest broken payroll system

Included in the federal budget last week was news that Treasury Board has been tasked with leading a team to find a replacement for the troubled Phoenix pay system. But this $16-million project is not expected to produce results overnight.

It may take time to find a better, more modern system to replace Phoenix, but the worst thing to do would be to rush into something new and make things worse, Brison said.

“We’re going to get it right. We’re going to bring together some of the best minds in Canada and globally and build a real A-team around digital transformation. We will not repeat the mistakes of the previous government.”

“We’re going to get it right. We’re going to bring together some of the best minds in Canada and globally and build a real A-team around digital transformation. We will not repeat the mistakes of the previous government.”
-Scott Brison

In the meantime, Budget 2018 included $430-million to stabilize the current system, which is on top of $460-million that has already been spent trying to fix major problems with the way federal public servants are paid.

Since its launch two years ago, the Phoenix system has been plagued with problems, affecting thousands of federal workers across the country, some of whom have gone without pay, or who have been under or overpaid.

Related: Government workers should get apology, compensation for Phoenix mess: NDP

Les Smith, spokesperson for the P.E.I. branch of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), says these problems have caused significant hardship on federal government employees in P.E.I. and across the country.

He was critical of the federal government’s announcement on budget day that it planned to pour hundreds of millions more as an interim measure into a system that has never worked.

“There’s some monies being thrown by the government onto more money, and this is taxpayer’s money,” he said.

“There’s no indicators that we’re aware of that this system can actually be fixed. Every time a fix goes through, it creates other problems and it continually evolves and the mess just goes through one side to another.”

The PSAC has asked government for help for federal workers affected by the payroll problems. Some of them are being asked to repay gross amounts in overpayments, despite the fact they were only payed a net amount after deductions. Others have missed car or mortgage payments due to lack of income and should be compensated, Smith stated.

“There has to be something put in place where damages are paid,” he said.

“These problems are still ongoing. Canadians are still going to have pay problems. This budget did not fix them.”

Brison acknowledged the situation is “unacceptable,” placing the blame squarely on the Stephen Harper administration’s decision to adopt the IBM Phoenix pay system while also eliminating pay advisors and gutting legacy pay systems.

“They did that to save $70 million on the eve of an election to try and create the illusion of a surplus.”

Whatever new system is eventually adopted, Brison says government will learn from the hard lessons of Phoenix while also embracing the latest technologies and approaches.

“My college Carla Qualtrough and her team are working day and night to stabilize the existing system, but we believe it’s in the interest of public servants that we also look at a new system, and what we can learn from the lessons of the IBM Phoenix pay system.”

Twitter.com/GuardianTeresa

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