Ministry defends Novopay performance

By Cassandra Mason, Josh Martin

File photo / Thinkstock
File photo / Thinkstock

The Ministry of Education is defending the controversial teachers' pay system Novopay this evening, saying more than 92,000 school staff were paid correctly overnight.

But Labour MP Nanaia Mahuta says Parliament still needs to get to the bottom of what's gone wrong with the system after its most recent "debacle".

A spokesperson for the Ministry said tonight that fewer than 20 non-payments and underpayments were identified today and they were working with Novopay developers Talent2 to ensure unpaid staff are paid as quickly as possible and other glitches are "ironed out".

Records show that 494 transactions from last night's pay cycle - which do not all impact on wages and salary - have not been processed.

Group manager Rebecca Elvy said the Ministry had been "working hard to ensure a successful pay run".

"I'm pleased to see the figures are an improvement on previous cycles. However, although fewer than in previous pay cycles, some people are still not being paid and that is not acceptable."

She said the fall in payroll errors had been "dramatic" and the focus was also on clearing the backlog of unprocessed transactions from the initial Novopay pay cycles.

"This backlog now stands at 463 and will be cleared very soon."

Parliament needs to sort out 'debacle'

But Mrs Mahuta - Labour's education spokeswoman - has written to the chairperson of Parliament's Education and Science Committee, calling for it to hold an inquiry into the $30 million teachers' pay system, introduced in August this year.

She said the latest overnight glitch is just the latest in a series of problems plaguing the system "since day one".

"In its first four pay cycles there were more than 8000 stuff-ups - it is unbelievable," she said.

"This mess has dragged on for months now, and Parliament needs to get to the bottom of what's gone wrong. "

In the latest round of glitches, teachers were paid overnight, but many still received the wrong pay from the system.

Today's blunder has also sparked fears that school staff won't be getting their Christmas pay on time.

The Ministry of Education has responded to this concern, saying that it was working with Talent2 to make sure the Christmas pay process will go smoothly.

"I can assure school staff that both the Ministry and Talent2 are fully committed to getting the payments right and in bank accounts on time," said Ms Elvy.

"We realise it is a very important time of year for people and know their holiday plans are dependent on receiving their pay."

While the majority of staff will be paid as usual, a group of about 10,000 relieving teachers would be affected, she said.

But in the letter sent today, Mrs Mahuta said that she had received dozens of letters and emails from angry teachers and school staff affected by the errors.

She wrote that the on-going confusion was distracting staff from their goal of lifting student achievement.

Mahuta wants the Ministry of Education and Talent 2 to be held to account.

"Novopay has been an absolute debacle, and it has dragged on for months. It appears Government ministers can't be bothered addressing the situation, so Parliament needs to step up and sort it out.

"I hope MPs from all parties, including National, will treat this issue with the seriousness it deserves and support a Select Committee inquiry into Novopay," she said.

Principals facing 'tremendous' extra workload

McAuley High School principal Anne Miles agreed that the on-going nature of the botched system had been a great source of frustration.

She said the hours of additional work that Novopay required from her and her staff had been "tremendous".

Mrs Miles said she estimated the introduction of Novopay had added an extra hour's work to her day, every day, for eight weeks.

"It hasn't been an easy transition and the stress it has placed on me and my staff has been considerable."

The biggest problem at her school had been the inaccessibility of the help line, which had only ever been answered once, she said.

She believed the enormity of the payroll had been underestimated.

"It's just been far bigger than they realise."

Yet despite the problems, Mrs Miles said credit must be given.

"Novopay have been trying to rectify matters, and there has been a slight improvement [over time].. But they came from such a back foot it will take time."

Waiuku College Principal Tom Vanderlaan said while his school had been fortunate in comparison with other schools, relieving teachers had been affected significantly.

"It's been hard to process [the relieving teachers] as efficiently as permanent staff.

"They've been having their pay either delayed or done incorrectly."

And it was not just teachers who had been impacted by the errors.

Service and Food Workers Union industry leader Jill Ovens said caretakers and cleaners all around New Zealand were also affected today.

She said the union had been swamped with calls from disgruntled members.

"Some of our members are over $1000 out of pocket," she said

"These are low-paid workers who are already really struggling."

Mrs Ovens said the union was calling on education minister Hekia Parata to address the problem.

"Hekia Parata needs to take control.

"She can't sit by any longer and watch as the Novopay debacle drifts on and on with no end in sight."

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