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Phoenix pay problems spike under pressure from new contracts, summer hires

Marie Lemay is the deputy minister of Public Services and Procurement.

The Canadian Press/File

Marie Lemay is the deputy minister of Public Services and Procurement.

OTTAWA — There's been a fresh spike in problems with the federal government's bug-addled public service pay system, the result of new labour contracts and summer hiring.

Marie Lemay, deputy minister of Public Services and Procurement Canada, says her department did manage to stabilize the backlog of pay change files that were being dealt with in March and April.

But Lemay says the backlog surged by about 10 per cent last month when the Phoenix system was inundated with new pay requests.

The system was jammed by pay changes made to accommodate new collective agreements coming into force for roughly 24,000 government employees working as financial managers, auditors, scientists and others.

In addition, about 5,000 summer students were hired.

Officials say around 345,000 pay change transactions were entered into the system in May, about 265,000 more than the 80,000 the system is normally expected to handle.

"All this means the number of transactions awaiting processing has grown," Lemay told a teleconference Friday.

The government said last month it was hoping to enlist 200 temporary workers on top of the 300 hired to date to deal with the Phoenix issues, which initially left tens of thousands of public servants underpaid, overpaid or not paid at all.

Lemay said Friday she expected up to 230 new pay system employees could be hired over the next two years.

"We need the capacity," said Lemay. "It absolutely will help us get through that queue."

How long it will take to tame the backlog will depend on how quickly the department can hire — and train — new compensation advisers, said Lemay, noting that intensive "boot camp" training sessions are underway for the latest new hires.

The government said it will spend $142 million in hopes of bringing the Phoenix system to what it calls a "steady state."

The Liberals have blamed the expense on the previous Conservative government, which axed hundreds of workers who handled pay claims before Phoenix was brought on line.

The Conservatives argue the Liberals knew of the pay system problems before deciding to launch Phoenix.

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