Embattled Ports of Auckland CEO was 'bullied' out of his job - Auckland Chamber of Commerce boss

Embattled Ports of Auckland CEO was 'bullied' out of his job - Auckland Chamber of Commerce boss

By Jean Bell for RNZ

The embattled chief executive of the Ports of Auckland has been bullied out of his job, according to a business leader.

Amid the flurry of Budget Day yesterday, Tony Gibson announced that he would be stepping down.

His resignation follows weeks of mounting criticism from unions and Auckland Council elected members over health and safety on the waterfront.

There have been three deaths at the Ports in recent years, and a scathing independent review found systemic problems relating to health and safety risk management and organisational culture relating to health and safety.

The Port's performance had also been scruntinsed - Covid-19 and the implementation of new automated cranes had caused congestion and disruption, to the point freight had been diverted to other ports in the country.

In a video message posted yesterday, Gibson told staff pressure had been mounting.

"[In] the last months, there's been a real public challenge with the spotlight on me and it has been damaging the reputation of the Port and our people. I love our people and it's not great for me or my family either."

He said it was a hard decision to make.

"As long as I'm in office and we've got shareholder and media attention on me, it doesn't help you and the good people of Ports of Auckland to do what you do best."

Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett said he believed Gibson was forced out through public humiliation.

"It's a loss of an internationally experienced senior leader. [He's] someone who I think has contributed incredibly well. The only reason he is going is because he has been bullied."

The Ports had struggled with congestion, but Barnett called Auckland Mayor Phil Goff making public comments about Gibson's capability "inappropriate".

He believed Gibson's performance was an issue for his employer, which was the Ports' board.

Meanwhile, Goff denied bullying Gibson.

Goff said Gibson made the call to quit on his own.

He said asking questions about the Port's performance and health and safety were appropriate, given the council's sole ownership of the Ports and its importance as a supply line to the city.

"I would be negligent in my responsibility were I not to ask those questions. I don't think you can characterise that as bullying," Goff said.

First Union general secretary Robert Reid was among those who delivered a letter to Gibson, urging him to step down following the scathing health and safety review.

He was not surprised by Gibson's departure.

"It should have been a resignation that took place many years ago, but especially after the independent health and safety report."

Reid did not think that meaningful change could come if Gibson stayed.

He hoped that a leadership change would see Auckland Council have more say, with a bigger emphasis on health and safety.

Maritime Union of New Zealand national secretary Craig Harrison was hopeful Gibson's departure would allow more union input into the Ports' operations.

"It's in our interests so our members have employment. At the moment with the congestion and the accidents and deaths that have happened, its been a really negative environment to be involved," Harrison said.

Gibson has declined any requests for interviews.