Teachers' pay woes still not resolved

LAURA BASHAM
Last updated 13:00 14/11/2012

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Schools are today dealing with another round of payroll problems, and aren't confident that they will be fixed.

At Nelson College, which has experienced more than 100 pay problems since the Ministry of Education introduced the error-plagued Novopay schools payroll service in August, finance manager Brett Mochan was trying to resolve yet more problems in today's fortnightly pay.

"We are at the point where simple issues will not go away. With each fortnight, we get a different range of errors than we have experienced previously," he said.

"One of our gravest concerns is staff recorded as being paid, but they have never received their net pay. When we question the staff at Novopay, they are insisting they have been paid."

Staff had been bringing in bank statements to prove their case, Mr Mochan said.

"We are also aware of deductions being shown as being correctly deducted from gross pays but payments for these deductions not going to the third party.

"The question has to be asked, where is this money going or, if still held by Novopay, when will it be sent on?"

One staff member had not been paid four times, which was eight weeks' pay, and the board of trustees had advanced money to her and to other short-paid staff, he said.

"That one example has since been resolved - but at this point she was then overpaid."

Mr Mochan said he used to spend one day a week dealing with payroll under the previous Datacom system, but now spent 80 per cent of his time on Novopay.

While he believed it was getting better, unresolved errors remained, he said. Novopay staff, while well-meaning, were foundering, and it would seem they did not have the skill set to deal with the problems, he said.

The cost to the country in the future would be substantial because of the combination of turnover of frustrated payroll staff and the time needed to get new staff up to speed and confident in using the system, he said.

Recognising the errors that remained outstanding would seem to be an issue in itself, he said, as many of the reported errors seemed to be recorded by the Novopay program multiple times and have numerous "ticket numbers" issued against them. Keeping abreast of these was incredibly time-consuming.

Nelson Central School, like others, will be billing the Ministry of Education for the extra hours its pay officer has needed to put in trying to sort out the problems.

Principal Paul Potaka estimated that the officer had put in more than 30 hours, including working several nights, trying to sort out errors that had affected about 12 of the 40 staff on the school's payroll.

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Some relief teachers had not been paid up to date, and pay for some support staff was lagging, he said.

"One of the biggest difficulties is not being able to communicate with a person. Novopay has made everything electronic, which is good to an extent, but when the system is inadequate, you need to be able to speak to someone. We have not been able to talk to a person."

Since the system was introduced in August, there have been errors in thousands of teachers' pay.

The Education Ministry has ordered Talent 2 to fix the problems by today. The ministry said it released data yesterday to ensure schools had easy access to transparent progress reports from the Novopay processing centre, and the backlog of problems was being cleared.

Talent 2 is an international human resources and payroll systems company with offices all over the world.

Mr Potaka said staff reaction to the Novopay problems was to roll their eyes. "It's almost an acceptance of yet another government muck-up."

Mr Potaka is a member of the NZEI principals' council, which will meet with the ministry on Friday to get a progress report.

The system needed to be fixed rather than scrapped, he said.

"If you scrap it, what do you do in the meantime?"

At Clifton Terrace School at Atawhai, one reliever had not been paid for six weeks, and the board had to help out another teacher who was not paid for a week.

Principal Rob Wemyss said he had spent a lot more time than he used to on the pay problems, which was frustrating. "It's a bit tiring."

However, he believed the new system would eventually be better than the old system.

"It's just got some serious teething problems, and that's a shame."

- The Nelson Mail

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