30 Mar 2021

'It's his fault' - deceased's family want Auckland Ports boss gone

From Checkpoint, 5:10 pm on 30 March 2021

The family of one of the men killed at Auckland Ports wants the chief executive to resign following damning revelations into the ports' safety culture.

Checkpoint reporter Nita Blake-Persen and cameraman Nick Monro filed this report.

Systemic problems have been revealed in an independent report out today - with much of the blame laid with management and the chief executive.

The ports have been plagued by safety concerns in recent years - including three deaths as well as serious injuries.

Today's report was commissioned by Auckland Council - which is the sole shareholder of the Ports of Auckland - following the death of Amo Kalati while he was working a night shift last August.

It was completed by CHASNZ (Construction Health and Safety New Zealand) and found Ports of Auckland's health and safety approach didn't reflect the level of risk inherent in port operations.

In releasing the report today, Mayor Phil Goff said it was 'utterly unacceptable that you build profit or productivity on the backs of injuries from workers'.

"No industry accepts that should happen including the ports and they need now to address what was a serious situation," he said.

There are 45 recommendations for ports staff to work through - with much of the responsibility squarely on the man in charge, Tony Gibson, including a "requirement on the chief executive to prioritise safety over profit".

Gibson today said he felt "sick" reading about the issues outlined in the report.

"I didn't know about them - and that's a sad indictment 

"I felt a moral obligation to find out why this is happening and make sure that I can lead a programme of work that delivers on the recommendations."

But Checkpoint has been raising concerns about safety at the Ports of Auckland for months - with Gibson in December telling Lisa Owen that reporting of safety issues had been low because Māori and Pacific workers do not raise risks.

"We have a large Pacific Island, Māori community, and very often they are what I would call shy in coming forward to address issues. We've spoken to them. And we want to ensure that through their leaders that they ... have an avenue to come through and express how they feel about safety.

"We want a no blame culture."

Gibson's comments have been rejected by Ports staff who say they were racist, and workers say they have been repeatedly ignored when raising issues.

They include Tua Dyer, whose brother Laboom was killed in an accident at the Ports in 2018.

He worked at the ports for years but left in August 2020, following the death of Amo Kalati, due to safety concerns. 

Dyer said Gibson was the person responsible for the problems at the port.

"I'd love to have someone else who would actually do something about things down there - I mean I have a lot of friends down there that I don't want to see get hurt going forward and if Tony can't do that they definitely need to replace him."

Dyer isn't the only one calling for Gibson to step down - Maritime Union of New Zealand national secretary Craig Harrison said the report confirmed everything his union had been saying about the failure of management to keep workers safe.

Harrison said the major problem was changing management culture. The first step in doing that would be to replace chief executive Tony Gibson, he said.

"It stops with the CEO ...and the comments he made about Pasifika members not raising health and safety issues a few weeks back, was very unhelpful. But actually sets the tone for how he sees the port running as if the people who work there aren't raising these points, which he's not correct on," he told Checkpoint.

Harrison said they union had been advocating for change since Laboom's death, and prior to that they were advocating for changes because of numerous injuries on the port.

"And by extension, it's the members of ours who have little confidence that the CEO and senior management team are going to change overnight or the near future."

Workplace Relations Minister Michael Wood told Checkpoint it wasn't credible for leadership at the Ports of Auckland to say they weren't aware of issues raised in the report.

"If I was the leadership at Ports of Auckland I would be taking a long hard look at myself, I would absorbing this report in its totality, and frankly if the leadership of the Ports of Auckland is not prepared to recognise that what has happened is unacceptable and to make changes, then in my view they shouldn't continue in their roles."

But Gibson today said he wouldn't be resigning - nor had he considered it.

"My focus is making sure that the wrongs that have been done here are put right and I take full responsibility for that and provided the Board have got faith in me to actually deliver, I'll stay - the moment they don't have faith, that's the time I will leave."

Board chair Bill Osborne today said he had confidence in Gibson and the ports' senior management to drive forward on every recommendation in the report.