Editorial: New pay system a byword for botch-up

Last updated 13:00 15/11/2012

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OPINION: Novopay, the name for a new payroll system for New Zealand teachers, must have sounded good at the time.

You can imagine the Australian company behind the system, Talent2, unveiling it proudly to Education Ministry officials.

Some marketing whiz may have explained the name: Practical, with a bit of wow factor, a play on the new in New Zealand perhaps, or the phrase de novo - from the beginning.

Instead, three months after its introduction it's a byword for an IT botch-up.

In its first four pay cycles since the system started in August, there have been thousands of cases of school staff being underpaid, overpaid or not paid at all.

Many others have had leave entitlements incorrectly recorded, and payments deducted but somehow not passed on to the intended third parties.

At Nelson College, some staff recorded as being paid have not been, requiring them to furnish bank balances as proof. One had not been paid four times, and the college board of trustees advanced her money. The problem was resolved but only after she was then overpaid.

At the college, others had payments deducted but not transferred to the third parties.

In other cases around the country, one Christchurch teacher was "paid" the $7000 she earned as a relief teacher, but she was then wrongly charged $24,000 in tax, leaving her with a nominal deficit of $17,000. Another was paid $41 for two weeks' fulltime teaching.

School staff having to spend long hours trying to unravel the mess have reported extra frustrations in trying to talk to an actual support person, even though a high level of support was one of the key reasons cited by the ministry for giving the project to Talent2.

The company itself has cited its contract with the ministry as prohibiting it from discussing the Novopay situation, leaving officials with the job of defending the $29 million system.

Some light at the end of a bug-infested tunnel has emerged this week with the number of payroll errors dropping markedly, and the ministry is confident the backlog of previous cases that stood at almost 8000 a month ago will be cleared within the next couple of days.

However, the fact that errors are still happening three months later is a sorry indictment.

Everyone expects teething problems with IT projects, and particularly with one as large and complex as the education system, but not to have so many for so long.

The payroll overhaul went through a supposedly rigorous selection, development and testing process that was twice delayed to ensure the system was up to scratch.

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Its poor introduction has placed more strain on the Government's relationship with schools. Finally fixing the payroll service and compensating out-of-pocket teachers may see the specific issue blow over, but there is a lot of work to be done to repair the wider partnership.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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