Editorial: Painful pay problems

Last updated 08:27 26/11/2012

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OPINION: The Novopay payroll system that has been stiffing far too many teachers is an unhappy example of what you get when you take a lax, inadequate approach to training office personnel in how to make a transition from a myriad of different systems into an over-arching, not especially user-friendly one complete with glitches of its own.

If the litany of payment failures so far was not provocation enough, Talent2, the Australian company behind Novopay, has been unwise in its choice of words when presenting its side of the story.

Its chief executive, John Rawlinson, has apologised for "the inconvenience" that payment disruptions and inaccuracies have had on New Zealand teachers.

Being paid, and in timely fashion, is not a convenience. It is a necessity. Not to mention a right.

That the percentage of successful payments has been high scarcely changes the reality of the harm - not inconvenience - inflicted on the host of teachers who have been underpaid or not paid at all, sometimes for protracted periods.

Mr Rawlinson then tried the line, apparently more in sorrow than reproach, that school administrators have not "embraced" the system.

It wasn't an embraceable system.

The training, which was mostly online, clearly confounded an extraordinary number of school administrators. This suggests either that these people are a bit dim, or that they didn't much care, or that, after prolonged delays introducing Novopay, someone's patience was at an end and the whole kit and kaboodle was introduced in a sorry state of unreadiness and with a sense that people would just have to cope.

On top of a lack of what Mr Rawlinson charmingly called a lack of "sector readiness" there were also a series of early software problems that compounded the levels of frustration and anxiety.

It's undeniable that teacher payrolls are a messy business, with a bunch of different awards and conditions.

But this was known going in. This was known when the company won the contract.

The Education Ministry has agreed to reimburse schools for the extra costs incurred sorting out the system's sabre-toothed teething problems.

For all the permutations about the extent to which the Government and ministry or the private sector or the school administration staff were to blame, the fact remains there's a contract that the company has not come close to satisfying.

As a result it is to face a financial penalty - something that would mean more if we had any information about what it would be.

Something itself painful? Or a token intended more to placate public opinion?

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Talent 2 says New Zealand is en route to what will eventually be a better, more efficient system and, long term, a substantial saving to taxpayers. It is not blaming the ministry or the Government.

Might this be a case of not biting the hand that feeds it? Of course, when the hand stops feeding, some biting is then to be expected. Just ask teachers.

- The Southland Times

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