Pay­ing civil ser­vants is priority, re­coup­ing funds next: Foote

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD -

The min­is­ter re­spon­si­ble for the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s trou­bled pay­roll sys­tem says she’s more con­cerned about pay­ing em­ploy­ees who haven’t re­ceived what they’re owed than she is about re­coup­ing money that’s been over­paid.

And Pub­lic Ser­vices and Pro­cure­ment Min­is­ter Judy Foote sug­gests those who have been paid too much put the ex­tra money aside un­til a re­pay­ment sched­ule can be worked out.

Foote’s com­ments came Tues­day af­ter the CBC re­ported the gov­ern­ment has over­paid more than $68 mil­lion and has so far reached agree­ments to re­cover only about one-third of the money.

The min­is­ter sug­gested the ex­act amount owed to the gov­ern­ment isn’t known be­cause bu­reau­crats have been fo­cused on fix­ing the sys­tem so tens of thou­sands of em­ploy­ees who haven’t re­ceived proper pay­cheques get the money they’ve earned.

Shortly af­ter the gov­ern­ment launched the Phoenix pay sys­tem last spring to re­place sev­eral an­ti­quated pay­roll sys­tems, com­plaints be­gan pour­ing in from pub­lic ser­vants who had been un­der­paid, over­paid or not paid at all.

By June of last year, the back­log of prob­lem cases reached 82,000. That back­log has since been pared down to about 7,000 files, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est count.

But those files are con­sid­ered to be ex­cep­tion­ally com­pli­cated and deal­ing with them has sig­nif­i­cantly slowed the pro­cess­ing of new pay­roll changes that have been filed over the past few months.

In most cases, Foote’s depart­ment says it can take up to three months for cur­rent and past em­ploy­ees to re­ceive pay­ments for over­time, tem­po­rary pay up­grades and other ben­e­fits that are in ad­di­tion to reg­u­lar pay.

The gov­ern­ment’s main ob­jec­tive at the mo­ment is to deal with un­der­pay­ments, and im­prov­ing its “ser­vice stan­dard,” Foote told re­porters af­ter a cabi­net meet­ing Tues­day.

“Our priority has been on mak­ing sure that those who were not get­ting paid for work per­formed get paid,” said Foote.

“We want to make sure that any hard­ship cases that are out there are dealt with.

“We will get to those re­ceiv­ing over­pay­ment.”

Just how much money was over­paid isn’t yet clear, she said.

Foote en­cour­aged em­ploy­ees who have been over­paid to let her depart­ment know so their files can be worked on. In the mean­time, she sug­gested any­one re­ceiv­ing more than what they’re owed set the money aside.

“I en­cour­age any em­ploy­ees who are get­ting more money than they are en­ti­tled to, maybe to put it in a sep­a­rate bank ac­count,” she said.

“When it comes time to re­cover that money, we will do it, and we will do it in a way that’s re­spect­ful of those em­ploy­ees.”

Re­cov­ery meth­ods can in­clude lump-sum pay­ments or re­pay­ments over time, said Foote.

The depart­ment was ex­pected to pro­vide an­other update on progress in fix­ing the Phoenix at a me­dia brief­ing Wed­nes­day.

CANA­DIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO

Judy Foote says she’s most con­cerned about pay­ing em­ploy­ees owed money due to fed­eral pay­roll prob­lems.

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