The federal government says it has missed its self-imposed deadline to clear the backlog of payroll problems caused by its troubled Phoenix pay system. At a technical briefing in Ottawa on Monday, Marie Lemay, deputy minister of Public Services and Procurement Canada, told reporters that 22,000 employee cases of the original 82,000 remain unresolved.

“We have closed close to 60,000 employee cases in the backlog,” Lemay said. “That means that close to 75 per cent of the backlog has been completed.”

The Phoenix system oversees the payment of 300,000 federal public servants. Employees began reporting problems with the program soon after it was launched in February. In July, the government announced it had more than 80,000 backlogged cases of employees being underpaid, overpaid or not paid at all.

The deputy minister said the government “desperately wanted” to meet its Oct. 31 target.

“I want you to know that we will continue to work tirelessly to close the remaining cases as quickly as we can,” Lemay said.

The vice president of the largest union representing public service workers affected by the Phoenix problems called it “unacceptable” that the government has taken so long to fix the issues. Chris Aylward, the national executive vice-president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), told CTV News Channel on Monday morning that the lengthy process has been very concerning for the union’s members.

“Our members, the public service employees, need to know when is this going to be fixed,” Aylward said. “When can I go to work on Monday and know that I’m going to get paid on Wednesday for the work that I do on behalf of Canadians each and every day?”

Lemay reiterated that many of the remaining backlog cases are complex and require “time-consuming manual calculations.”

“In fact, 82 per cent of these cases predate Phoenix and some date back several years,” Lemay said.

The deputy minister cited employee terminations or union affiliation changes as examples of cases that require more research. Lemay said her department is making progress and that employees can expect shorter waiting times for processing their payment transactions. She said she’s looking at year-end as the new target for resolving the rest of the backlog.

Aylward said he would like to see the government provide public service workers with a set date for when they will have the Phoenix pay system completely fixed. He also stressed that if the government can’t meet that deadline, it should tell its employees right away.

“Everyone walking realizes that this is unacceptable when the government of Canada can’t pay its employees properly,” Aylward said.

Public service workers rally

Before Monday’s briefing, public service employees rallied in front of the Prime Minister’s Office in Ottawa to pressure the government to fix the Phoenix pay system. Dozens of workers held signs, waved flags and blew whistles on the sidewalk in front of the government building. In a nod to Halloween, participants held up a sign that read “Haunted by Phoenix.”

In a press release, Debi Daviau, the president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), one of the unions organizing the rally, said their “patience is wearing thin.”

With files from the Canadian Press