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Nearly 1800 teachers paid less than minimum wage, most now back-paid

The Auditor General has confirmed nearly 1800 school teachers have been paid less than the minimum wage but says most have now been been back-paid.

The Office of the Controller and Auditor General has responded to concerns raised with it by National's education spokesperson Nikki Kaye about some teachers receiving less than the minimum wage, and the apparent time taken to make teacher salary assessments.

The Auditor General's Sector Manager for Schools, Jane Rogers, says when the minimum wage increased, the provisional rate some teachers start on was not adjusted to be in line with the new minimum wage.

As a result, some teachers were paid below the minimum wage in 2018/19 and prior to that. 

"The Ministry told us that this is not acceptable, it should never have happened, and the Ministry regrets that it occurred," Ms Rogers says in a letter to Ms Kaye.

Ms Rogers says her office understands that of the teachers who were paid less than the minimum wage, 655 current teachers were affected from 1 April 2019 and received a back-payment on 8 May.

Another 845 current teachers were affected prior to April, and received back pay for arrears on June 19.

And 276 were affected prior to April, are no longer teaching, and will receive a back-payment as soon as is possible, recognising that the ministry or Education Payroll Limited, which provides payroll services to schools on the ministry's behalf, might not have current contact information for those people.

The ministry told the Auditor General's office that this situation happened because "the appropriate controls were not in place to recognise and increase teacher rates in the payroll system in line with annual minimum wage adjustments" where the effect of those adjustments overtook the rates in employment agreements.

"We understand that, from 8 May 2019, controls were put in place to ensure that all teachers are paid at least the minimum wage from 1 April 2019," Ms Rogers says.

The ministry and EPL have plans to formalise the process for ensuring that teachers are paid at, or above, the minimum wage before the next minimum wage adjustment, she says.

"In our view, all of those controls should have already been in place. It is the Ministry’s responsibility to have controls in place to ensure that it is complying with all relevant legislation."

Meanwhile the ministry told the Auditor General there were three salary assessments during 2018/19, out of about 8300 processed annually, that were not completed within the required 15 working days of receiving complete documentation for processing.

"It has also told us that it is working with the New Zealand School Trustees Association to encourage schools to start the salary assessment process before a teacher starts work," Ms Rogers says.

The auditor of EPL has been asked to include testing of the performance measure in the 2019/20 annual audit work, she says.

Source: istock.com