Ports of Auckland staff furious over ousted CEO's payout

From Checkpoint, 5:49 pm on 6 September 2021

The Maritime Union is furious outgoing Ports of Auckland chief executive Tony Gibson has been paid nearly $1.8 million before leaving the company.

Gibson, who resigned in May, is facing health and safety charges over a stevedore's death last year.

That death is one of three linked to the Ports in recent years, along with multiple injuries.

Before leaving the job, Gibson was on a salary of around $820,000 - the highest paid employee there.

But the latest annual report shows payment to a resigning employee of between $1.78 million and $1.79 million in the last financial year.

Ports of Auckland CEO Tony Gibson is facing calls to resign after an indepedent report criticised workplace health and safety protocols as inadequate.

Ports of Auckland CEO Tony Gibson is facing calls to resign after an indepedent report criticised workplace health and safety protocols as inadequate. Photo: RNZ / Nick Munro

Maritime Union of New Zealand chairperson Craig Harrison said that payment went to Tony Gibson, and that he was sickened to see how much the figure was.

"There's been deaths at the Ports, and the trauma that those families have suffered and gone through over the last year, and just to see someone walk away from the Ports of Auckland with so much money.

"Over the years I've seen workers lose their jobs for sometimes trivial stuff, and it's had a big impact on their lives - and there was nothing in the way of packages when they went," he said.

Independent Māori Statutory Board deputy chair Tau Henare was among a group of people who called for Gibson to resign after a damning health and safety report earlier this year. He said it was incredibly frustrating to see how much he had now been paid.

"Any worker out there on the planet that would have been up against it like he was, would've most probably got four weeks' wages and then told to bugger off."

He said the payout was shocking, and reflected Gibson's privilege.

Henare said the Ports' Board was complicit in allowing Gibson to receive the money and called for the entire board to be replaced.

Employment lawyer Kathryn McKinney said $1 million was a significant payout for any departing executive.

"When someone of a senior level leaves, sometimes a separate new agreement is reached - an 'exit agreement' - and they often do come with confidentiality clauses around them as well, which might have fallen into part and parcel of this exit sum."

Harrison said Gibson's contract should never have been allowed to include such a significant payout.

"When they had the first death on the Port, surely the alarm bells should've been going off and the package should've been relooked at. 

"There must be someway that they could've readdressed the package, or the 'parachute clause' for want of a better word, it just seems that they've let it go and let it go and he's walked away."

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Ports of Auckland said the Board had to take into account existing contractual arrangements between the company and Gibson, which included confidentiality.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said Auckland Council was neither consulted nor advised of the board's decision to make the payment. 

"While the board has the authority to do this, it is not a decision either agreed to or supported by council. To the contrary, I do not support the decision, nor do I believe other councillors would endorse it," he said.

Gibson will make his first court appearance in relation to the health and safety charges later this month.