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Novopay: The payroll system that doesn't pay

Wednesday 14 Nov 2012 5:24 p.m.

The Novopay teachers’ pay system which came online in August cost the taxpayer $30 million - but it’s still not working.

The error-ridden payrolls were supposed to be fixed by today, but there are ongoing problems.

Six weeks ago, Campbell Live asked the Ministry of Education when Novopay will be working. The answer was “soon”. Last week, Campbell Live provided details of one desperate person to the ministry so they could make sure she was paid. They wrote back, saying she would be paid in full on the next payday – November 14.

That was today, and she still wasn’t paid.

The ministry has her name and all her details, they know she is desperate, they told Campbell Live they would pay her. But they haven’t.

Novopay has become a $30 million episode of Fawlty Towers. Is it acceptable to have a $30 million payroll system that doesn’t pay people?

Tonight Campbell Live has more examples of how Novopay hasn’t paid.

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Bryce Thomas is the caretaker at Maungaturoto Primary School in Northland. He has been in the job five years and loves doing it.

But recently, he has been doing it more for the love than the money: since early September, every one of Mr Thomas’ paychecks has been incorrect, and it wasn’t long before the problems started.

“Probably about the third [payday] I missed a mortgage payment – that hurt a bit, we got stung on that,” he says.

“Then we had to refinance things and that as well. It’s just a pain in the arse.”

For 10 weeks now, Mr Thomas has been promised his pay will get sorted. Maungaturoto Primary principal, Shane Campbell, even has it in writing: an email from Novopay last week assured him Mr Thomas’ pay would be fixed.

“Then I have to become the bad guy and head back out and tell the person, ‘I’m sorry, there’s been no pay,’” Mr Campbell says.

“They’ve got the technology these days," says Mr Thomas. "I know our year six kids could probably get it sorted in this school here. They’re good on computers."

Ten weeks on, every single one of Mr Thomas’ pay packets has been wrong. That’s 10 weeks of financial hardship. Ten weeks of disappointment. Ten weeks of empty promises.

“They just keep on lying and lying and lying,” he says. “It’s all they do. Either they’ve got monkeys working at Novopay, or not enough monkeys working there.”

Time and again the Ministry of Education has assured Campbell Live that Novopay issues would get sorted.

“They say it will get sorted the next payday, but nah – they’re just lying through their teeth,” says Mr Thomas.

“Can they fix it? It seems they can’t,” says Mr Campbell.

With just two more pay periods until Christmas, an already desperate situation is fast approaching breaking point.

“Novopay need to realise the impact this is having – not only on the person getting paid, but the impact on their families,” says Mr Campbell.

“People are starting to plan Christmas. People are starting to budget for Christmas and that time of the year and people are nervous, people are fearful and all they want from Santa is to be paid.

“They deserve a lot more than that.”

For Dunedin mother-of-two Jacque Ruston, Novopay still equals no pay.

“I’m just astounded that any employer would still expect someone to be coming to work, three months after they hadn’t been paid at all,” she says.

Campbell Live spoke to Ms Ruston last week, when she was at her wit’s end. For seven weeks, she hasn’t received a cent – and that meant she could no longer afford gas to even get to her work, as an administrator at Parakaunuiu School.

But the ministry promised that its previous mistakes would be fixed. Speaking to Campbell Live, the ministry said: “Our sincere apologies to Jacque for this situation […] Jacque will be paid in full on the next payday, 14 November.”

“Nothing happened,” Ms Ruston says. “The principal took me aside yesterday and asked me if I was feeling emotionally strong and showed me the report. My name didn’t appear on it.

“That was a bit of a surprise. I thought after the assurances of last week, that would be a given.”

What is astounding is, in trying to fix the problem, Novopay created another one.

“It must be riddled with bugs for this particular case to not even be able to be fixed in the last week," says Ms Ruston. "The problem this week is that I have been issued with not one, but two MoE codes and that has flummoxed them to the point of paralysis."

So now the ministry doesn’t know where to pay the money to.

Ms Ruston is back at school – only because the Board of Trustees paid her out of school funds, so that she could register her car, fill it with gas and come to work.

“People have been really generous,” she says. “Old school friends have come out and offered me interest-free loans and I’ve had to say yes to it. It is a really strange, unusual situation to be in – but I’m taking offers of help from friends. People have been great.”

But goodwill can only stretch so far, and Ms Ruston is quickly losing faith in the ministry and a system which has so far failed to live up to its $30 million price tag.

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