Sonja Farr is living week to week as a Novopay botch-up has cut into her pay.

She is one of the more than 6000 support staff in schools who are being paid less per week because of a once-in-a-decade payroll change. Some say they are struggling to pay their bills as a result of the change, under which they are earning the same total income but spread over 54 weeks instead of 52 weeks.

Ms Farr, an office administrator at Taradale Intermediate School, said she has had a pay cut of about 3.7 per cent each fortnight. "I can't save, I'm basically living week-to-week."

She said she was fortunate to have a partner as it would be "hugely stressful" and "probably break me".


Ms Farr, who had been at the school for 16 years, said support staff now check their pay slips every time to make sure it's correct.

"That's how little faith we have in the system."

The Ministry of Education has defended the payroll change, saying no one is being underpaid and that employees were warned in advance.

Support staff in schools, most of whom are teacher aides, are paid for 40 weeks of the year but they can choose to "annualise" their pay days over 52 weeks. Because 52 weeks equals 364 days, the leftover day each year adds up to an additional fortnight, or an additional pay period, every 11 years. To compensate for this, the school payroll provider Novopay is paying annualised workers in 27 fortnightly pay days this year instead of the usual 26 pay days.

It means staff pay was slightly lower each fortnight, but there was an extra pay cycle which bought the annual pay up, Ministry of Education head of the education infrastructure service, Jerome Sheppard, said.

Ms Farr felt she had no option but to accept annualisation. "I needed to have some income coming in over the Christmas school holiday period."

She said communication had been poor and finding out about this situation just before the festive season and at a busy work time of the year really was "abysmal".

New Zealand Education Institute (NZEI) national secretary Paul Goulter said support staff chose to annualise their pay because many of them were on the minimum wage and it made it easier to budget. "Some staff were required by Work and Income to be paid fortnightly to get access to support payments."

Even a tiny change in pay packets could make life difficult, Mr Goulter said.

NZEI estimates support staff are paid an average of 3.7 per cent less per week. The union is taking the issue to the Employment Tribunal next month.

- additional reporting NZME