8 Apr 2021

Māori and union leaders deliver letter urging Auckland port boss to quit

From Checkpoint, 5:25 pm on 8 April 2021

Senior Māori and union leaders say the Ports of Auckland boss needs to quit, and should leave the role without a payout.

Independent Māori Statutory Board deputy chair Tau Henare, former Labour Party and union official Shane Te Pou and First Union general secretary Robert Reid renewed their calls as they delivered a letter to Tony Gibson on Thursday, urging him to step down in the wake of a scathing review into health and safety at the port.

In recent years there have been three fatalities at the port. In 2020 Pala'amo Kalati was crushed to death, while in 2018 Laboom Dyer died after the straddle carrier he was driving fell over, and in 2017 member of the public Leslie Gelberger was killed by a port vessel while swimming.

The independent review following those deaths points to systemic safety failings and suspected under-reporting of accidents, with port workers fearing speaking up.

Checkpoint has been contacted by wives of workers who are frightened about conditions at the port, but say their husbands are scared to speak out.

Despite this, chief executive Tony Gibson is refusing to walk.

"I'm very surprised he hasn't gone," Shane Te Pou said.

"We've had two kaimahi, one member of a public die, other kaimahi – other workers maimed. And our understanding as late as last week, a kaimahi was very badly injured on this very site."

Reid said Gibson should not leave just because of the deaths but because of his comments on the back of the independent review, that he was not aware things were so bad.

"What then happened was the chief executive said: 'Oh, I didn't really know that was happening, and I'm going to stay on to fix it'.

"It was him saying he didn't know what was happening, when it does the job of a chief executive, the job of a chair, the job of a board, to know what was happening.

"And the new health and safety law that came in after Pike River made that absolutely clear."

Henare said one death at the port should have been enough for Gibson to go, let alone three.

"[Chair] Bill Osborne should be actually sitting down with the chief executive officer today and saying: 'Your last day is Friday. See you later, we're going to get somebody in who has the wherewithal to put together a health and safety plan not only just not only for the Ports of Auckland, but for the whanau as well'.

"Where here as whānau. We're here as ratepayers, we're here as all sorts of things, because we believe that our whānau who are working here today are under attack."

Henare said there should be no exit package for Gibson.

"He should just get a month's wages and bugger off. That's what happens here. No employee gets a year's wages. When they have to go they get a month's wages, that's it. That's what you and I would get."

At the port office the three leaders met briefly with the chief financial officer, where they delivered the letter calling for Gibson to go.

"It was basically meeting with the CFO, saying here's the letter calling on the board actually to do the right thing.

"He said to us that they're working on things, that he said he's as committed as we are to see change.

"And he will be delivering that letter to the chairman sometime today."

Ports of Auckland communications manager Matt Ball said the letter has been received and the port is focused on implementing the health and safety review's recommendations.

Reid said there will be more protests if the chief executive refuses to walk.