'It's an absolute joke': More MPI staff allege bullying, mismanagement

More former and current staff from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI's) border control team have contacted Newshub to complain of bullying and mismanagement in the detector dog programme.

Two said the same thing: that staff have been told to stop reporting cases of fatigue or stress or they could lose their job. 

Two months ago, former dog handler Angela Chambers resigned from the job she loved over issues with management and changing rosters.

"We were told by management that if we didn't like the roster we could leave," she told Newshub. "He also turned around and said not only could we leave, but we were all replaceable."

MPI border clearance northern passenger manager Craig Hughes says he's unaware of management saying such things to staff.

"We are working closely with all of them to give them the best work environment we can," he says. "All our changes have been done in consultation."

But that consultation hasn't resonated with many.

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Ms Chambers is among 17 handlers who have left their roles since January 2017 -  but MPI says the turnover is "healthy".

"I think it's an absolute joke that management would sit there and think that's healthy," Ms Chambers says.

"What company would sit there and basically have a 50 percent turnover and say that's healthy?"

Another worker who left the dog programme and is now a senior quarantine officer told Newshub that employee health and safety is often ignored.

"Staff have also been told they need to stop reporting fatigue or stress due to management and the roster, and if they do not stop complaining, then they can leave the programme."

MPI has confirmed one complaint of bullying is currently being investigated, while two other cases were investigated in 2016.

"I've already asked the Director General to investigate if any such behaviour should be occurring, if there have been any such accusations," says Biosecurity Minister Damien O'Connor.

As well as significant staff losses, Newshub revealed on Wednesday that the 'green lane' exit at Auckland Airport's international terminal is no longer monitored by dogs between 2am and 5am.

"It's a roster gap that we intentionally created to allow our people to have a better break," says Mr Hughes.

It meant 435 passengers went unchecked by dogs on Wednesday, and it's been like that for months - although the Biosecurity Minister didn't know that until Thursday morning.

"The dog is snoozing and New Zealand is losing," says Nathan Guy, National's biosecurity spokesperson. "This is a big concern for farmers and growers."

The Minister says the dogs are just one layer in the biosecurity system.

But those contacting Newshub are saying the same thing: poor culture and management ignoring staff is leading to resignations, and that can only mean bad things for New Zealand's biosecurity.