OTTAWA — The minister responsible for the Phoenix pay system has issued an apology to public servants over the ongoing pay problems that are still plaguing over half of Canada's federal public service, and revealed the actual backlog of cases is 520,000.

"I am truly sorry," said Public Services and Procurement Minister Carla Qualtrough in a letter to public servants provided to CTV News Thursday.

In the letter, Qualtrough reveals that in addition to the 265,000 outstanding pay cases with financial impact, there are an additional 255,000 cases that are past due, bringing the total of outstanding transactions at the pay centre to a staggering 520,000.

The 255,000 cases include the over 20,000 collective agreements that have yet to be implemented, the monthly workflow of around 80,000 cases, and pay cases where non-financial administrative changes are required, or general enquiries, like adding direct deposit information or changing an employee’s personal information. It is expected that the number of collective agreements to be processed will grow.

"There is no doubt that we have our work cut out for us," the minister said in the letter. She also pledged more regular, and detailed reporting on the steps they’re taking to fix the system.

“Too many of you have been waiting too long for your pay,” Qualtrough said. “I apologize to those of you experiencing pay issues that are affecting you and your families. Your stories of hardship caused by the backlog of financial transactions keep me awake at night.”

The letter comes on the heels of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada calling on the federal government to ditch Phoenix and let public servants build a new pay system that works.

On Tuesday, the union, which represents many of the federal IT specialists trying to fix the bugs within the system, said its members are telling them it can’t be done.

PIPSC President Debi Daviau said she's heard from members that they could deliver a new system faster than they estimate it'll take to fix Phoenix, though PIPSC does not have an estimate on what that approach would cost.

In an interview that aired on CTV's Question Period Sunday, Qualtrough said she couldn't guarantee that the price tag to fix the problem-plagued pay system won't hit a billion dollars. Qualtrough also said she doesn't know when the system will be consistently paying people correctly and on time, though she anticipates the number of backlogged cases to go down in the new year.

The Phoenix system, initiated by the previous Conservative government in 2009, was meant to streamline the payroll of public servants and save more than $70 million annually. Already, the government has planned to spend $400 million trying to fix it, including hiring more staff and setting up satellite pay centres in Gatineau, Montreal, Winnipeg, and Shawinigan, to try to chip away at the pile of remaining cases. It cost $309.5 million to implement the system.

The initial promise from the department was to have the backlog of problematic pay cases resolved by Oct. 31, 2016.

In a joint statement, Qualtrough and Treasury Board President Scott Brison reiterated their critique of the previous government’s botching of the payroll rollout, but said they are committed to finding a permanent solution.

"Fixing this won’t be easy. It will take time and there will be costs," the pair said in the statement.

"There is no greater issue facing the public service and, as your employer, our Government has no higher priority," they said.

The government said it is looking forward to the Auditor General’s report on Phoenix, which will be made public next week.


Message to public servants from Public Services Minister by CTV News on Scribd