Officials express ‘zero faith’ in Phoenix damages claim process after long waits

Federal public servants say they are frustrated and have lost faith in the compensation process put in place to recognize their serious financial and personal hardship due to the government’s ailing pay system.

Some employees say they are still affected by the Phoenix payroll system, introduced more than six years ago, which has overpaid, underpaid and failed to pay many federal employees since.

The government then agreed to pay eligible employees $2,500 in general damages owed to Phoenix under its 2019 and 2020 damages settlements with various unions.

CBC spoke to several current and former officials, including some who did not want to speak publicly, who expressed frustration with long wait times for compensation and delays in communication from the claims team of the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat.

“I can’t plan, I can’t assume that I will ever be paid by the government for what is owed to me,” said Grant Dyck, a now-retired tax account examiner who has experienced tax discrepancies. compensation since taking on various higher-paying acting roles at the Canada Revenue Agency, as well as a disability leave, in 2017.

“Now we are talking about six to six and a half years later, without compensation. »

I can’t assume that I will ever get paid.– Grant Dyck, retired civil servant

At the end of 2021, the federal government announced another grievance process to which the Public Service Alliance of Canada – the largest union of federal public servants in the country – said it would ensure that the government does not “ don’t hang around.”

The union said it could not respond to CBC’s request for comment by releasing the time.

Employees became eligible to begin seeking additional compensation if they encountered serious financial and personal hardship, such as losing their home, ruining their credit rating, or developing trauma or mental health issues due to Phoenix.

Dyck, who retired in 2019 with a disability, said the amount of his pension each month remains unstable due to miscalculations by Phoenix. He said the calculations for his best five years were “skewed” due to random underpayments and overpayments he received due to Phoenix.

“To the best of my knowledge, I can’t imagine what I should be paid, what is owed to me or what I owe the government,” said Dyck, who audited the payroll as part of his job. to the government.

“And I did that professionally for five years. So it’s so confusing. »

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Grant Dyck, who previously worked for the Canada Revenue Agency as a payroll auditor, says the trail of overpayments and underpayments caused by the Phoenix system is so complicated that even he can’t decipher what he and the government owe each other.

Although he qualified for the $2,500 general damages claim, he said he still hasn’t seen that money. A letter from the government says his payment date was February 2, 2022, more than four months ago.

Dyck submitted another claim in the anguish category. He suffers from anxiety and depression and said Phoenix made his illness worse.

He filed for that claim in December and said he was now waiting six months with no end in sight.

“They’re just dragging their feet on it,” Dyck said.

Reliving Trauma Through the Claims Process

Another former official said he expected to “fight aggressively” for his damages claims, just as he is fighting for the money Phoenix has clawed back from him over the years.

This employee, who worked for Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada before leaving in 2018, describes a year-long depression in 2019 following Phoenix-related problems. He said the government was continuing to collect the wages owed to him, even though he had already repaid $8,254.25 in overpayments.

The claims process is, I guess, like the rest [of] the Phoenix fiasco.– Howard Blinn, former civil servant

“Anxiety built and built and built and I finally self-admitted to [the] psychiatric ward,” said the employee, whom CBC agreed not to name because he was concerned that speaking publicly about his mental health would affect his reputation.

“My doctor put me on suicide watch. He insisted that he see me or talk to me every week. And my family was terrified. »

He sought damages for mental difficulties in January. After hearing “nothing” from the secretariat, the former civil servant said he was “fed up” and approached his local MP for help.

Shortly after, he heard the secretariat asking him to submit the relevant documents.

He said it’s exhausting to relive the trauma through all the doctor’s notes, correspondence and pay stubs he prepares for the claim.

“I predict that after submitting this documentation, I will have to go back to my MP, get aggressive with [the] process itself and push,” he said.

“If I didn’t go to my [MP], my file would not have been processed… I have no faith. And from what I’ve been through, I’m going to have to keep putting the pressure on. »

Officials express zero faith in Phoenix damages claim process after
The Phoenix payroll system cost taxpayers $2.4 billion in April 2022. Some of those who have sought damages due to severe hardship say they are frustrated waiting months and years for the process takes place. (Ron Ward/The Canadian Press)

Howard Blinn, who previously worked with the Canadian Coast Guard in Halifax, said Phoenix’s troubles have haunted him since 2016.

He sought damages in December and is still waiting.

“The claims process is, I guess, like the rest [of] the Phoenix fiasco,” he wrote to CBC. “I have no confidence in the liberals [government] to solve this problem soon. »

Half of complaints are resolved, says TBS

The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat said in an emailed statement that it does not comment on specific cases.

Spokesman Martin Potvin wrote that depending on the complexity of the complaint, processing could take up to “several months”.

Potvin said nearly 94% of general damages claims have been resolved. Since the launch of the last claims program at the end of 2021, almost 800 of the 1,623 serious damage claims – just under half – have been resolved, he added.

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