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 last 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.