It is still likely to be two months before the teachers’ payroll system is finally running smoothly — 10 months after the problems began.
“We’re still a little way off,” says Datacom education payroll unit general manager Linda Sollit. “It’s probably a couple of months before we get everything running as it should.”
Meanwhile, angry teachers are taking a test case to the Employment Tribunal on behalf of a teacher who is owed $1000 in back pay.
Primary teachers union the New Zealand Education Institute says other steps have failed to work, but that as soon as the union threatens legal action over a particular teacher that individual’s problems are fixed smartly.
Datacom took over managing the payroll system last July, after the government decided to outsource the task. It’s the largest payroll in the country, with an average of 67,000 payees.
The first pay period of the year, last month, saw another surge in complaints from teachers who had not received their pay or who had received the wrong amounts.
“The levels of accuracy are not at the level we would expect under the terms of the contract,” says Ministry of Education senior manager Eric Pedersen. The last two payments have shown some improvement but there are still a large number of mistakes going on, he says.
The first pay period is always difficult, he says, as there is usually a large number of new teachers to include. This was exacerbated this year due to the shortage of teachers in schools, which led to a major recruiting drive in some areas to get extra teachers into the classroom.
“We had 20,000 new employees this year,” says Pedersen. Putting these on to a system that was already not working led to a considerable rise in the number of errors. The technical problems are a comparatively minor factor in the ongoing inability of the ministry to pay its teachers.
“The main problem area is on the pay clerks' side,” says Sollitt. “The skill level is not what it should be.”
Datacom - which directly handles the payroll in some regions and contracts it out to various subsidiaries in others - inherited a large number of staff who had handled the payroll when it was still run by the ministry. However the transition from the old mainframe system to the new client-server operation run by Datacom called for a higher level of skills than many of those staff possessed, she says.
There is currently a major training programme under way. Meanwhile the ministry has invoked the penalty clause in its contract with Datacom and is using the money recovered to employ more pay clerks. It has also established an emergency payment system which direct credits, within two days, the bank accounts of teachers who notify it they have not received their pay.