Phoenix pay system plays role in United Way workplace campaign donation shortfall

One of the biggest workplace fundraising campaigns in Canada will fall short of its $19-million goal this holiday season, and the Grinch in the works is the federal pay system that handles most of the donations.

It’s a snafu that the country’s top bureaucrats predicted over the summer, weeks before the annual United Way campaign kicked off, documents show.

It’s also just one more consequence of a problem-plagued payroll system that has been causing migraines for public servants and senior officials since the calendar first turned to 2016.

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Approximately 70 per cent of the funds that are raised for the United Way through the federal workplace campaign come from payroll deductions.

The deputy minister in charge of the campaign warned his colleagues at a July 27 breakfast meeting of a “serious impact on our ability to raise funds” if the Phoenix payroll issues weren’t resolved.

The details are contained in speaking notes provided to the clerk of the Privy Council, the country’s top bureaucrat, and obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

On Wednesday, the top civil servant at Public Services and Procurement Canada, which is in charge of the Phoenix system, confirmed that the fundraising campaign will fall short of its $19-million target.

“At the end of the day, I think one thing we have to remember is the amount of money that the public servants do raise to the campaign is a tremendous amount of money,” said deputy minister Marie Lemay.

Phoenix has upended regular pay for more than 80,000 federal workers who have been underpaid, overpaid, or not paid at all for weeks or months because of human and technological glitches.

Clearing the backlog of cases is now two months behind schedule with some 10,000 cases yet to be fixed.

The government has ordered a review and has called in the auditor general to figure out what went wrong.

The results of the review, which won’t be known until at least the spring, will determine whether senior managers who oversaw the Phoenix rollout will receive performance bonuses for 2016, a possibility that appeared to leave NDP MP Niki Ashton apoplectic during question period Wednesday.

“With the holidays around the corner, Mr. Speaker, this adds insult to injury to the so many who are still waiting to get paid,” said Ashton, demanding the government nix bonuses for all involved.

Public Services Minister Judy Foote said the government is doing everything it can to solve the remaining cases, which she said are the most complex.

“There’s no one more concerned about this issue than I am, as the minister responsible,” Foote said. “We are working very hard, we have put measures in place…to deal with these issues.”

The cost of doing so could extend beyond the $50 million the government previously estimated, because officials don’t know if temporary pay offices established as a workaround will need to remain in place.

The new system was supposed to save taxpayers millions of dollars annually, but those savings won’t arrive until early 2018, the end of the government’s next fiscal year at the earliest, Lemay said.

There won’t be any savings this year, she added.

“We will end up saving some money,” Lemay said. “Will it be the same amount that was planned? I’m not sure because we’ll have to see how many people do we need to keep at the end or not in terms of our satellite units.”

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