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Unions increasingly at odds over replacing troubled Phoenix pay system

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OTTAWA — The federal team charged with finding a replacement for the government’s troubled Phoenix pay system will present the Liberals with options within weeks that are expected to include “multiple pilot projects,” government officials say.

The plan could pit at least two of the three potential bidders on the projects against each other in a competition to see which system works better, either independently or in tandem with one another.

“In the coming weeks, the next-generation team will present options to the government for next steps, which will likely include multiple pilot projects to test possible solutions beginning later this year,” Treasury Board spokesman Farees Nathoo told The Canadian Press in an email.

The proposal is laying bare divisions among the unions representing the roughly 300,000 federal employees who have been living under the Phoenix pay cloud for more than three years.

One of those unions, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, says the move is wrongheaded and could result in another bungled pay system.

Testing separate pay systems through individual government departments, or in groups of departments, could produce problems for federal employees similar to those being experienced under the current, flawed system, warns PSAC national president Chris Aylward.

“That is very concerning because they have no clue about the way forward,” Aylward said.

When issues began to surface shortly after the IBM-built Phoenix pay system was launched in 2016, the government initially, in part, blamed the problems on segregated, antiquated departmental human resources systems that were incapable of properly communicating with each other and the Phoenix system, he noted.

“It concerns me if they say, ‘We don’t know how many providers we are going to use, we may have to use more than one,'” said Aylward.

“It sounds like we’re starting Phoenix all over again…. They need a system that works. One pay system that works for all 300,000 employees that currently get paid out of Phoenix.”

The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, which represents about 60,000 of those employees and has been working closely with the government to find a new pay solution, doesn’t share PSAC’s concerns.

“I think that, so long as those are compatible systems and they are connected through some sort of internal cloud, then there shouldn’t be a problem between systems,” said union president Debi Daviau.

“But at this point we’re just trying to determine what is going to be the best system.”

Daviau suggested a pilot project at the Canada Revenue Agency, for example, could see about 50,000 people properly paid within a year, as opposed to implementing an entirely new software product, which could take several years.

PSAC, which represents the vast majority of federal workers, recently rejected an agreement supported by 13 other unions that will see federal employees who’ve been impacted by the failures of Phoenix provided an extra five days of paid leave over four years.

It has also walked away from contract talks with Treasury Board affecting more than 100,000 workers, turning down proposed pay increases amounting to 1.5 per cent annually.

The government last week invited “qualified respondents” to submit proposals to enter a third stage for developing a new HR and payroll system to replace Phoenix, after narrowing the field of potential bidders to three companies: Ceridian, SAP and Workday.

Bob Conlin, the public services lead in Canada for Germany-based SAP, suggested the government should tread carefully if it ultimately decides to contract more than one system provider and test their programs in different departments.

SAP already provides human resources systems for the Canada Revenue Agency and the Customs and Border Services Agency.

Those departments would benefit more from combining HR and payroll services under an existing service provider, said Conlin.

“If they were to extend (HR) with payroll, it would not be a Herculean leap for them,” he said in an interview.

“They would benefit in a big way from the opportunity to upgrade to modern technology.”

But Conlin cautioned that CRA, CBSA and the Department of National Defence, in particular, must be treated carefully.

“Those are some of the clients that absolutely have to get done right,” he said. “They are also some of the more complex civil service pay environments.”

On Thursday, the Parliamentary Budget Office told the House of Commons the government could expect to pay about $57 million dollars to buy, test and implement a new pay system. The price tag did not include annual operating costs estimated to reach almost $106 million.

The PBO also estimated it will cost taxpayers $2.6 billion to stabilize the existing pay system until a new one is fully adopted.

The former Conservative government had estimated Phoenix would save $70 million annually.

 

Terry Pedwell, The Canadian Press

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China asks for suspension of Canadian meat, citing forged certificates

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OTTAWA — The Chinese Embassy said Tuesday it has asked Canada to suspended all meat exports, a surprise move that comes amid the diplomatic dispute over the December arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver.

The latest Chinese move comes as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to depart Wednesday for a G20 leaders’ summit in Japan, where he is expected to rely on U.S. President Donald Trump to raise the plight of two detained Canadians during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The embassy said in a statement to The Canadian Press on Tuesday that this latest move follows Chinese customs inspectors’ detection of residue from a restricted feed additive, called ractopamine, in a batch of Canadian pork products. The additive has permitted uses in Canada but is banned in China.

“The subsequent investigation revealed that the official veterinary health certificates attached to the batch of pork exported to China were counterfeit and the number of those forgery certificates was up to 188. The Canadian side believes that this incident is criminal offence,” said the embassy statement.

“These forged certificates were sent to the Chinese regulatory authorities through Canadian official certificate notification channel, which reflects that the Canadian meat export supervision system exists obvious safety loopholes.”

China is therefore taking “urgent preventive measures” to protect Chinese customers and has asked the Canadian government to suspend all meat-export certificates, the embassy said.

“We hope the Canadian side would attach great importance to this incident, complete the investigation as soon as possible and take effective measures to ensure the safety of food exported to China in a more responsible manner.”

A spokeswoman for Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau did not immediately comment on the report.

A report in the newspaper Journal de Quebec, which first reported the story, quotes a Montreal-based diplomat with the Chinese consulate-general as saying the ban is temporary.

China detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor and sentenced another Canadian to death in an apparent attempt to pressure for Meng’s release.

China has also stopped imports of Canadian canola and has suspended import permits for three pork producers.

A senior Canadian government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the dispute, described the matter as a “technical issue.”

The official said the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is “seized with the issue and looking into the matter to ensure that all the rules are being followed.”

The CFIA is working with Chinese officials to resolve the matter.

“This is a technical issue related to potentially fraudulent permits,” said the official. “We stand by the quality of Canadian products.”

The Conservatives blamed Trudeau.

“Conservatives know that Canadian farmers produce some of the highest-quality meat in the world. Any assertion by the Chinese government to the contrary is both false and baseless,” said a statement from Tory agriculture critic Luc Berthold. “It is clear that this is not an issue of food safety, but a political issue caused by Justin Trudeau’s incompetence and weakness on the world stage.”

Berthold said Trudeau has to “personally raise this issue” with Xi in at the G20 meeting and demand the trade barriers be lifted.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

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Report: China bans all Canadian meat before G20 as Trudeau turns to Trump on detainees

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OTTAWA — A report in a Quebec newspaper says China has suspended all Canadian meat exports in a dramatic escalation of its diplomatic dispute with Canada over the December arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver.

The latest Chinese move comes as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to depart Wednesday for the G20 leaders’ summit, where he is expected to rely on U.S. President Donald Trump to raise the plight of two detained Canadians during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

A report in the newspaper Journal de Quebec quotes a Montreal-based diplomat with the Chinese consulate-general as saying the ban is temporary.

The diplomat says the move is being taken because about 100 faked veterinary health certificates have been identified on exported meat products.

A spokeswoman for Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau has yet to comment on the report.

China detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor and sentenced another Canadian to death in an apparent attempt to pressure for Meng’s release.

China has also stopped imports of Canadian canola and has suspended export permits for three pork producers.

The Canadian Press

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