Novopay's latest botchup worth $7m

TALIA SHADWELL
Last updated 12:00 18/12/2012

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A Palmerston North primary school briefly saw a $7 million jackpot - the latest in a series of Novopay blunders affecting staff pay.

Somerset Crescent School's administrative staff were blown away when they received a banking report recording a payment of $7m to the school, instead of the $10,000 owed in the last pay cycle.

"We were expecting $10,000, which was some money we were due from a rollover, so we were surprised to see $7m in there," Somerset Cres board of trustees chairman Tony Coffin said.

The beleaguered electronic payroll system's administrator Talent 2 took quick action.

The apparent overpayment turned out to be a processing glitch - the millions were never transferred to the school's account, Novopay chief information officer Leanne Gibson said.

But the school's staff were unimpressed that it took a million-dollar scare to prompt the payroll service into action when other issues persisted, including the plight of one teacher who was still owed $4000.

"They were on the phone first thing the next morning and we said ‘what about our other issues?' They said they couldn't deal with that at that time," Mr Coffin said. "If this was in the private sector it would be inexcusable - it would be sorted."

Three payroll administrators at Somerset Cres and Awatapu College, where Mr Coffin is also board chairman, told him they were undertaking an extra workload of about 60 hours a fortnight between them to deal with payroll issues.

"They are under a huge amount of stress," he said. "We get no recompense for that. Our secondary [payroll staff] are on holiday now and our primary school one goes on holiday [today] but they will be back in on Thursday because that's when the last pay period is. It is a huge cost to the school."

Ms Gibson apologised for the stress caused to the school.

"It was never the case that the $7m would have been paid. This was the result of a processing error which occurred last week, affecting the formatting of school control reports [SUE] and staff payslips."

Holiday pay had been delayed for some staff but in the most recent pay cycle 92,000 employees received their normal fortnightly play, she said.

However a Principals' Federation survey of more than 900 schools found that 83 per cent reported at least one staff member was still being paid incorrectly, and 85 per cent had unresolved problems from previous pay rounds.

Labour's acting education spokesman Chris Hipkins said Government education leaders should postpone their Christmas holidays until Novopay's errors were fixed.

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"This has been going on now since August. It beggars belief. [Minister of Education] Hekia Parata and [Associate Minister] Craig Foss should have rolled their sleeves up months ago and sorted this mess out," Mr Hipkins said.

"Instead we are a week out from Christmas, with school staff still living with the uncertainty of a botched payroll system. Our teachers deserve a decent holiday, but perhaps Ministers Foss and Parata should stay at work until Novopay starts delivering."

Ms Gibson said Novopay's providers had measures in place to rectify payment issues by Christmas.

"We are very concerned about the impact of these issues on school staff and their families, especially at this time of the year."

- Manawatu Standard

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