OPINION: The public expects a lot of teachers. The very least that teachers should be able to expect in return is that pay day is a certainty, not a lottery.
Likewise, taxpayers have high expectations of government departments. So, when the Education Ministry spends $29.4 million on a new pay system for schools, taxpayers rightly expect it to perform the simple task of ensuring teachers get what is owed to them on the day it is due.
Instead, the ministry delivered Novopay, a spectacular disaster. Since it was introduced in August, Novopay, operated by Australian company Talent 2, has resulted in thousands of teachers being underpaid, overpaid or not paid at all. Thousands more have had leave entitlements incorrectly recorded and third-party payments, such as superannuation and student loans, deducted from wages but not passed on.
As a result, many teachers have suffered financial hardship and distress. Dominion Post readers will be familiar with the plight of Wellington geography teacher Rebecca Young, who was forced to rack up credit card debt and unable to pay bills during the six weeks she waited for the holiday pay owed for a relieving job. She was finally paid $3800 of the more than $5000 outstanding the day before she left for her OE. She was due to get the rest once Novopay sorted out exactly how much she was owed.
In another case, a Christchurch teacher, who was owed $7000 for a relief teaching job, was at her wits' end after Novopay charged her $24,000 in tax - meaning her pay packet was negative $17,000. Another teacher complained of being paid $41 for two weeks' work.
The glitches with Novopay are inexcusable, especially as the system's introduction was repeatedly delayed so bugs could be fixed. When the second delay was announced in May last year, the ministry told schools it was ''to ensure we introduce a payroll system that pays every staff member the right amount, on time, every time''. Teachers who have been waiting for weeks for the money they are owed and the school principals who have had to drop everything to help them are unlikely to appreciate the irony in that statement.
The debacle has now resulted in frustrated Auckland primary school principals threatening to boycott any Education Ministry initiatives till the system is fixed. The ministry, for its part, has reportedly given Talent 2 till next Wednesday to clear the more than 4000 errors remaining from the first two pay days in August. If it fails to do so, the ministry must implement the penalty clauses in its contract.
The ministry also needs to restore the considerable amount of goodwill it has burned up since Novopay went live. Even when the backlog of errors is fully cleared, many teachers will be left out of pocket. Some will have paid fees for bounced payments or missed bills, while others will have racked up interest on credit cards or overdrafts. Those in that position must be fully compensated.
The patience so far shown by teachers affected by the fiasco has been commendable, and requires a show of good faith in return. Anything less would fall well short of public expectations.
- The Dominion Post