Editorial: Foss needs to face pay fiasco

Last updated 05:00 11/01/2013

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If Associate Education Minister Craig Foss went for five months without being paid correctly, it is a safe bet he would take a keen interest in what was going wrong.

That is what he should be doing with regard to the Novopay debacle, which has left teachers guessing every payday whether the amount they are owed will turn up in their bank accounts.

Mr Foss's game playing over Labour MP Nanaia Mahuta's attempts to get information about the extent of the Novopay fiasco does him no credit.

The questions she asked were valid. They sought to determine how many teachers had been underpaid, overpaid or not paid at all since Novopay was introduced in August, and how much the errors amounted to. She also sought information on how long school staff trying to contact Novopay's call centre were left waiting on the line.

As the minister with responsibility for Novopay, Mr Foss should have had a keen interest in those figures himself. Instead, he fobbed off Ms Mahuta's questions on the grounds that they related to an "operational matter" which was the responsibility of soon-to-depart Education Ministry chief executive Lesley Longstone.

It was apparently only after Speaker Lockwood Smith instructed Mr Foss to give informative answers that he asked the ministry to provide him with the information being sought.

The resulting data illustrates the chaos that the introduction of Novopay has caused. In the seven pay periods for which Mr Foss provided details, 7899 school staff, most of them likely to be teachers, were underpaid or not paid at all. A further 6092 were overpaid and 581 were paid on behalf of schools they did not even work for.

Half the calls made to the Novopay helpline in August were abandoned or left unanswered, and the longest wait time for a call was recorded as being one hour 28 minutes and 32 seconds.

Mr Foss is correct when he says it is for Ms Longstone and her successor to resolve the Novopay issue. However, that does not mean he does not need to bother himself with the details of what is going on.

Given the hardship that Novopay has caused thousands of teachers who have been left out of pocket, administration staff who have had to work extra hours reconciling errors that were not their fault and principals who have had to dip into their schools' meagre budgets to make payments themselves, he should be showing more than a passing interest in developments.

It is hard not to feel some sympathy for Mr Foss' position. He was not the architect of the Novopay disaster. The decision to switch from Datacom – which took months to bed in – as the payment vehicle for schools was made under a Labour government in 2007, and its development was well down the track long before he became associate education minister.

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However, though he is not to blame for Novopay being rushed out before it had been adequately trialled, he has accepted ministerial responsibility for the system by taking the associate education portfolio. The very least he can do is acquaint himself with the scale of the problem.

- The Dominion Post

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