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New Zealand

Health NZ Requests Staff to Repay Funds, Despite Owing Billions

The Nurses Organisation reports that Health NZ Te Whatu Ora is asking staff to repay funds given in error, despite owing current and former employees $2 billion in remediation payments.

This is part of Health NZ’s efforts to cut costs by $105 million by July, as mandated by the government, according to the NZNO.

A recent job advertisement by Health Canterbury sought a “Legislation and Compliance Overpayment Officer” for the corporate payroll team. This full-time, permanent role involves calculating overpayments according to Health NZ policy, contacting managers about sensitive overpayment situations, and recovering funds. The officer would also be responsible for investigating and resolving payment issues.

Andrew Slater, Health NZ’s chief people officer, explained that payroll teams commonly include roles for managing overpayments. Overpayments can occur if changes in an employee’s work hours are not processed timely by the employee, manager, or payroll team.

Slater emphasized that this role is not part of cost-saving measures. However, staff across the country have already been asked to repay funds, according to NZNO delegate Erica Donovan. She noted that overpayments from the past four or five years had only recently been addressed, describing the move as disappointing and hypocritical, given Health NZ owes employees $2.1 billion in Holidays Act remediation payments for shift and leave pay breaches dating back over a decade.

Donovan highlighted the prolonged dispute with the hospital system over incorrect payments under the Holidays Act and the ongoing unfulfilled promises of repayment. Meanwhile, Health NZ has been pursuing repayments from current employees.

So far, Health NZ has repaid $246.5 million to rectify 13 years of errors for 34,000 Auckland district employees. The remaining 17 districts and former staff were scheduled for payment in 2023, but the deadline has been extended to the end of this year. A joint project to expedite repayments and implement a unified national payroll system reported resource shortages last October.

Health NZ employs 90,000 people and operates with 24 different payroll systems, managing 26 National Collective Agreements, 33 single collective agreements, and approximately 10,000 individual agreements, Slater said. Many payroll processes, particularly in Waitaha Canterbury, are manual, including overpayment calculations.

Overpayments are recovered in accordance with the affected employee’s employment agreement, Slater added.

To meet the savings target, Health NZ is also leaving shifts understaffed, not replacing sick staff, changing brands or medical products, and stocking fewer supplies, Donovan said. “It’s really unsettling when you’re trying to provide the best patient care and not having the supplies or the staff to do so,” she noted.

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