Tempers have been understandably frayed by the ongoing
saga of the Ministry of Education's new $30 million Novapay
The computer system was rolled out at the end of August and
has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons since.
The system, which controls a fortnightly national education
payroll for more than 90,000 people, has been responsible for
thousands of incorrect or non-payments to staff and has
created extra work for school payroll administrators and
frustrations for principals and administrators trying to
contact its help desk, causing stress for many and financial
difficulties for some.
Otago primary school principals vented their frustration in a
letter to Education Minister Hekia Parata at the beginning of
September. A Ministry of Education spokeswoman said then
issues were still being ironed out but staff would be paid
Secretary for Education Lesley Longstone ordered the Novopay
Governance Board to meet urgently. Ministry of Education
chief information officer and Novopay Governance Board member
Leanne Gibson said the board was addressing the key "teething
problems" with the system and "we look forward to having a
successful pay run in two weeks' time".
By mid-September, as problems continued, secondary schools
threatened legal action because the missed pay impacted on
automatic mortgage and other payments, resulting in bank
penalties for affected staff. Otago Secondary Principals'
Association president Brent Russell called the situation a
"debacle", and said it had trebled the workload of his
In mid-October, Otago Primary Principals Association
president Brent Caldwell said: "We're into our fifth pay
cycle now where people haven't been paid. The problem
multiplies with each pay period."
By then, many Otago schools had begun paying teachers' wages
from their own funds. Schools reported waiting times of more
than an hour to contact the Novopay helpline. At the same
time, Ministry of Education chief information officer Leanne
Gibson was saying the ministry was "making good progress on
our improvements to the service" and each successive pay
round had seen a reduction in the number of errors.
At the end of last month, Otago Primary Principals'
Association members met officials from the ministry and
service provider Talent2 chief executive Brian Ashton, and
received confirmation the ministry would take responsibility
for any fiscal penalties incurred by employees because of
late payments. But the ministry now says it will not pay the
invoices - totalling nearly $500,000 - schools nationwide
have sent for extra time spent sorting out pay mistakes made
by the Novopay system.
And the problem remains. It was reported last week the number
of errors had leapt from 490 to 3227 in two weeks. Associate
Minister Craig Foss, who has taken over the Novopay issue
from Ms Parata, said last week all errors would be resolved
by the end of the week.
The debacle has been compounded by revelations of a security
breach of the system, which Mr Foss described as a one-off
because of human error. The whole saga follows the discovery
in August - at the time of the Novopay launch - that an
administrative error by the ministry in relation to staffing
entitlements effectively boosted the sector by $68 million
during the past decade, leaving questions over resourcing and
staffing for 2013.
This week, the New Zealand Educational Institute, the
country's largest education union, called for an urgent
inquiry into the system. Unions, principals, staff, and
boards members can be forgiven for losing patience on the
issue - and being cynical about the ministry's promises,
particularly as it appears the implementation of the system
could have been better managed.
Otago Secondary Principals' Association president Brent
Russell believes the situation could have been avoided if the
system had been trialled before it was launched.
The ministry has said it will hold system provider Talent2 to
account. It is to be hoped both organisations will work with
increased urgency to restore confidence - and long-overdue
earnings - to teaching staff before any drastic action is
taken by them.