For months now the dysfunctional Novopay system has been turning the hairs of the teaching staff affected by it, various shades of gray. Teachers, principals, caretakers and assistant staff have all been affected. Thousands have not been paid at one point or another. Many more have been grossly overpaid by the system, while others have had leave miscalculated. Few can blame them for being immensely stressed out by it, for it has affected their ability to pay common bills such as those for credit card, to buy items for themselves and their families, among other things. The Government is right to want this issue shut down as quickly as possible, but bringing in debt collectors to recover debts when the problem is far from over and the final debt is not even known, is excessively draconian.
Novopay is in trouble. Let there be no doubt about it. This system was supposed to replace one that was designed by Datacom. The predecessor to Novopay is now being presented by Datacom as an acceptable alternative the hugely flawed system that is causing so much grief at the moment. The Government admits that it is looking at the possibility of reintroducing the old system, but the Minister responsible for fixing Novopay indicated that reverting back would still leave a backlog of problems that need to be fixed.
It is true that the pay of teachers has varied wildly under the current system. It is true that the excess money paid is not the property of the people to whom it was paid. As excess money that they are not legally entitled to, it is fair to expect them to pay it back. But now is not the time. The total money wrongfully allocated in the pay cycles is still increasing, and the decision to bring in debt collectors now also ignores the fact that some of the teachers might have been underpaid in previous cycles, which raises the question of whether of not they still have outstanding debt.
The Minister, Stephen Joyce, is treading on very dangerous ground if he starts using debt collectors to recover money whose legal status as that of the Treasury or the teachers that Novopay should be paying is unknown. Would he himself permit debt collectors to recover money from him when he is uncertain as to who really is legally entitled to it? The farcical system that is Novopay unfortunately presents this question amongst other curly ones, which the Government no doubt wishes it never had to contemplate.
The answer to the question whether or not to dump the system and start afresh seems glaringly obvious at a first glance. However there is really, really no point in hastily abandoning one system for another and finding out that in doing so, another set of teacher pay roll problems has just been given birth to. Who would gain from that? Certainly not the teachers; most probably not Mr Joyce as the Minister of the Crown responsible for fixing Novopay – if that can be done; the hapless Minister of Education, Hekia Parata and probably not the ever suffering New Zealand education system.
But something – other than debt collectors raising stress levels further – has to happen soon. Right, Mr Joyce?