Pay saga stresses principals

GWYNETH HYNDMAN
Last updated 05:00 17/12/2012

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Southland principals are stressed, frustrated and feeling unsupported as they work extra hours with no compensation at the busiest time of the year, to make sure their staff get paid correctly before Christmas.

However, they have little faith that will happen.

A national survey of principals released on Friday shows that 97.2 per cent are not confident their staff will be paid correctly by the end of the school year because of ongoing problems with Novopay, which has logged 8000 errors since it was introduced in August.

Southland Primary Principals Association incoming president Ben Witheford said the 97.2 percentage would be an accurate representation of Southland as well.

The angst was compounded by calls to the Novopay service centre going straight to dial tone last week, he said.

When The Southland Times phoned the Novopay support team yesterday, it got a voicemail saying the team was available on weekdays only from 8am to 6pm. They are not available on weekends or public holidays.

Yesterday, Mr Witheford said the survey sent out by the New Zealand Principals Association illustrated the doubt many schools had, as problems with Novopay had not been resolved. Nearly 27 per cent of the 857 principals around the country surveyed said they would have to pay staff directly out of their operations grant.

Only 2.8 per cent of the 857 who responded said they were confident problems experienced so far would be successfully resolved by the end of the school year.

Mr Witheford said he was aware of some Southland schools still trying to sort payments from four pay periods ago.

"It is frustrating, because there are a number of outstanding issues," he said.

It was a stressful situation, with principals already dealing with end-of-year paperwork.

"We're putting in a huge number of extra hours at the busiest time of the year to ensure staff are being paid."

While he had found the Novopay helpline had sped up its wait times during the year, last week he had not been able to get through - eventually he got only a dial tone.

He then called the Ministry of Education's payroll department. He was assured payment issues during the last pay period would be resolved.

As of yesterday, they hadn't been, he said.

"All avenues open to us [for communication] don't seem to have much of a happy outcome."

Outgoing association president and Sacred Heart School principal Peter Forde said it would be even more frustrating for rural schools where a principal was also a teacher and had few support staff to help.

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Some schools were paying staff to work extra hours to deal with the problems, which were complicated and varied. Some staff were underpaid; others were overpaid, he said:

"There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to it."

Even making a complaint with the Novopay support team meant more paperwork as principals had to fill out a form each time there was a problem.

Christchurch school principal Paul Wilkinson contacted The Southland Times at the weekend to ask for clarification from ministry chief information officer Leanne Gibson, who says in Saturday's story on the Novopay debacle the ministry "was putting measures in place" to ensure all employees were paid their due before Christmas.

Mr Wilkinson said this was too vague to be comforting: "What are these measures?

He also had received no response to phone inquiries in the past week and emails had gone unanswered.

"The general feeling is a lack of confidence, and then the inability to do anything about it."

In response to questions emailed to the ministry yesterday, Ms Gibson says the Novopay service centre is based in Wellington but she did not say who was taking the calls.

She did not elaborate on the "measures the ministry had put in place" to ensure employees were paid by Christmas.

Ms Gibson says the ministry has specifically brought the last of the pay forward to December 21, so it had the ability to address any pay issues before the Christmas holidays.

Any staff member who had not received pay or had a significant underpayment was asked to phone the ministry on 04 463 8383 or email resourcing@minedu.govt.nz with the words "manual payment" in the subject line.

Ministry staff would be available to make these manual payments, Ms Gibson says.

gwyneth.hyndman@stl.co.nz

- The Southland Times

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