Ports of Auckland: Maritime Union urges chief executive Tony Gibson to resign

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The Maritime Union is calling for Ports of Auckland chief executive Tony Gibson to resign after a scathing report into health and safety failings at the Ports.

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

Several Auckland councillors have also joined the chorus of criticism following the release of the independent report. There had been three deaths at the port in recent years, two occurring in 2018.

The Auckland Council commissioned report found Ports of Auckland’s health and safety approach didn’t reflect the level of risk inherent in port operations.

It gave recommendations to address the failures.

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.

The report had recommended new requirements for the Ports’ chief executive to prioritise safety over productivity and profitability, improve trust and communication between management and staff, and for a new health and safety manager to report directly to the chief executive and the Board.

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

“There is no confidence in the CEO, and the Board has not done its job in our view.”

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Harrison said suggestions that poor relationships between union members and port management were partly responsible for failures to improve health and safety merely fudged the issue.

“The only problem is the Maritime Union’s ongoing campaign for safety at the port was disregarded and sidelined by management,” he said.

Ports of Auckland

Ports of Auckland Photo: RNZ / Kymberlee Fernandes

If the union’s long-standing concerns about health and safety had been listened to it was likely that deaths at the port would not have occurred, he added.

He laid responsibility for those deaths firmly at the door of management and the board of directors.

“There has been no accountability and the costs and the harm have all been on the workers at the port and the public of Auckland,” he said.

Harrison also raised concerns about the level of input the union had in drafting the report and that the union had not received a copy in advance, a courtesy afforded to management.

He said union members were ready to work with the company “as their lives depended on it” but that there needed to be better worker engagement.

Speaking to media this morning, Gibson said he felt “a moral obligation to put this right” and find out how improved safety measures could be implemented.

Earlier today, Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said the ‘dysfunctional’ relationship between port management and the Maritime Union must be addressed.

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In a statement following the report’s publication, Ports of Auckland board chairperson Bill Osborne said: “The relationship between the Maritime Union of New Zealand (MUNZ) and Ports of Auckland has been a barrier to improving safety.

“I would like to make it clear that the Board and management of Ports of Auckland accept this finding and acknowledge our role in this relationship. We are committed to working with the leadership and members of MUNZ, in partnership with the other unions and staff of Ports of Auckland, to create an organisational culture which supports strong, positive safety outcomes.”

He also highlighted a need to improve trust between management and workers over a ‘perception’ profit had been put above the lives and wellbeing of staff.

Meanwhile, seven Auckland councillors have released a statement expressing their outrage at the failings the report highlighted.

Otara Health chairperson Efeso Collins.

Councillor Efeso Collins Photo: RNZ / Jessie Chiang

Josephine Bartley, Efeso Collins, Cathy Casey, Richard Hills, Pippa Coom, Chris Darby and Shane Henderson said improved relationships between management, the union and workers at the Port must now prevail.

“We find this damning report a reflection of unacceptable health and safety practices,” the councillors said.

“This is a sensitive workplace for many workers, who are in a high-risk environment. As shareholders, we will hold the POAL board to account for the poor record of health and safety at the Port and insist on action to implement these report recommendations.”

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