Review into bullying culture sobering, says Lyttelton Port

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The South Island’s largest port says findings from an independent review into its workplace culture are sobering.

Containers being unloaded at Lyttelton Port

Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

The review into Lyttelton Port’s culture found that staff were in fear of speaking out, offensive behaviour was normalised and that the port lacked diversity.

It also found that there were barriers between front-line staff and corporate teams, management voids, lack of career progression and training and gaps in people monitoring.

Nearly 100 current or former staff came forward for the review, which was undertaken by Maria Dew QC.

It found that 81 percent of people who took part in the review reported bullying concerns.

There were also “disturbing reports” of anonymous intimidation and aggression towards staff, the report stated.

“You make our lives a misery, no one likes you” – an anonymous note sent to an LPC employee in December 2019 said.

“Come up with ya [sic] own ideas, it’s what your [sic] paid for” – An anonymous comment on an LPC Values consultation poster at work in August 2020 said.

There were also allegations of sexual discrimination and racism.

One interviewee told the report: “A senior leader said to me ‘you know what it’s like when you get a room full of women together’ – it shows me the lack of insight they have into the stereotypes they are using.”

Another said: “Senior managers need to be more thoughtful about their language, talk about a ‘Barbie’ is not appropriate about a female leader in New Zealand, as it sends a message to females that you are undermining women in leadership.”

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The report found that 90 percent of non-European interviewees found racism was an issue. In contrast 79 percent of New Zealand European/other european did not see racism as an issue.

“The bilingual signage in the LPC toilets was defaced, with the Māori language blacked out with a marker pen,” an interviewee said.

“It does not feel safe to raise concerns about racism, as senior managers laugh at racist comments,” another said.

There were also examples of more direct racism.

There were also interviewees who made statements that display racism, without the interviewee appreciating the racist tones.

“Bloody Māori’, ‘black bastard’, ‘what’s up blackie’, ‘sooty’, they are said in a friendly or joking way. It’s just banter,” a person was quoted.

“The company is becoming Māori orientated, over-orientated that way,” said one quote.

“We don’t need a Māori Cultural Advisor – we should all be the same. The role will divide us,” another quote said.

The port’s chief executive Roger Gray, who joined the company in February, commissioned the report in May.

He said the company was accepting all 32 recommendations made by the review.

“The findings of the review are sobering. Maria has done an excellent job holding a mirror up to our organisation, and this is a strong starting point for us to all work together to continue to change LPC,” he said.

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Gray said the board will take some time to digest the report, before outlining an action plan to achieve the recommendations in the new year.

“This report gives us clear direction for change. Our business is full of good people doing a hard job to support our local community and economy. We need to focus on making sure they’re okay and that this is a place they feel respected and valued,” Gray said.

He said if specific incidents of bullying or workplace cultural issues are identified, or if specific allegations are made, they will be investigated.

Meanwhile, an investigation into the late former staff member Katrina Hey’s employment experiences have also been provided to the port.

Gray said that did not find evidence of direct bullying. But it highlighted improvements that needed to be made around the port’s capabilities to support staff mental health and well-being.

The report into Hey’s experiences found that, although there were two incidents of unreasonable behaviour towards Katrina Hey, there was no evidence of serious and sustained bullying.

Hey’s daughter Kassandra alleged that her mother faced severe workplace bullying and harassment at Lyttelton Port by managers since beginning her role in 2012, working the night shift.

She told RNZ previously that workplace bullying contributed to her mum taking her own life on Christmas Day in 2019.

Kassandra Hey declined to be interviewed, but provided a short statement saying that she wished Maria Dew completed the review into her mum’s experiences.

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She said Dew’s report “told the truth”.

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