Devastated daughter says mum was bullied at Lyttelton Port Company for seven years before sudden death

Katrina Hey (pictured) was a loving mum who died suddenly on Christmas Day last year. She told family and friends she was felt consistently picked on by others at Lyttelton Port Company. This is her story.
Katrina Hey (pictured) was a loving mum who died suddenly on Christmas Day last year. She told family and friends she was felt consistently picked on by others at Lyttelton Port Company. This is her story. Photo credit: Supplied.

Warning: This story contains discussion of suicide

The daughter of a woman who took her own life on Christmas Day says her mum suffered through workplace bullying for years before her death. 

Kassandra Hey is trying to move forward "minute by minute" just months after the death of her sole parent, Katrina Hey, on December 25, 2019. 

"This woman wasn't just my mother, she managed to fill every role of a family member for me," Hey told Newshub. 

"She was the most beautiful, caring person. She was really kind, really giving, she would give anything just to make sure that everyone else was happy.

"I don't know how she managed it, but I never wanted for anything as a child and that's really hard for a single parent to do." 

Hey can recall the excitement her mum felt ahead of starting at the Lyttelton Port Company's City Depot office in February 2012. 

"Because it was such a big company it was a really good opportunity for her. She was rapt." 

When she came home from her first day however, Hey says it marked the beginning of Katrina's struggle to be accepted. 

She remembers her mum "coming home shattered" after a joke was made about her "looking like a barbie" to another worker.  

"She wore makeup every day, after that day, we hardly saw her put on makeup again for work. She would sometimes, but not like she used to."  

The daughter of Katrina Hey (pictured) is speaking out to change a culture of bullying she believes exists in workplaces around New Zealand after her mum shared with her experiences of being treated differently daily.
The daughter of Katrina Hey (pictured) is speaking out to change a culture of bullying she believes exists in workplaces around New Zealand after her mum shared with her experiences of being treated differently daily. Photo credit: Supplied.

Throughout her employment, Katrina gathered an extensive collection of internal emails showing instances where she felt she was "treated differently" during her time at the company. 

Further documents relate to complaints made about her experiences and reflect how incidents would affect her.   

"My mum worked the night shift for almost eight years and throughout that time she would be receiving emails from management in the morning saying how badly she has done the night before," Hey says.  

Hey says ongoing unfair decisions and mistreatment by her manager and team leader deeply impacted Katrina's self-confidence. 

She says because of Katrina's "fragile", softly-spoken nature she was an easy target. 

"They continuously ran her down," Hey believes. 

  • Read part 2 here: Lyttelton Port Company workers say 'rife' bullying 'tip of the iceberg' after staffer's sudden death

The paper work shows Katrina approached the Rail and Maritime Union with a concern about "ongoing bullying and intimidation" by two co-workers at the Inland Port City Depot in May 2013. 

In a document sent to LPC Human Resources from the RMTU Lyttelton Branch Secretary, Katrina outlined feeling threatened, disliked and afraid to go into work. 

"I never seem to do things right, I'm always in the wrong," she wrote. "I feel sick at the thought of going into work and not knowing if I am going to be accused of doing something wrong. 

"I like my job and I want to come to work and feel safe and do my job well. I don't want to be bullied or feel too scared to ask a question to clarify what needs to be done regarding the day's work." 

The RMTU declined to publicly comment on the matter when approached by Newshub.

In her complaint, Katrina, who prefered to work the night shift, said there was a constant threat looming over here of being put back on day shift. 

Lyttelton, Christchurch's major deep-water port, is a trade gateway to New Zealand's South Island.
Lyttelton, Christchurch's major deep-water port, is a trade gateway to New Zealand's South Island. Photo credit: Getty Images.

In records seen by Newshub, two other colleagues said they had witnessed the control of Katrina's hours being used against her by a manager. 

"I have heard her say a couple of times that if she could smack Katrina, she would. Katrina has to watch what she says because (the manager) is the one who tells Katrina what to do," one witness account says. 

Another document states that before contacting a union representative, Katrina tried to raise her issues internally where she was told "to grow up".  

Medical certificates seen by Newshub confirm Katrina saw her doctor on May 10 in 2013 and was deemed unfit due to stress from work from an incident on May 7. At a follow up she was ordered off work from May 13 to May 20 that year. 

An investigation, run by LPC HR, found despite "anxiety and aggregation" being caused, and issues being handled in an unsatisfactory way, "bullying and harassment" was not occurring.

In response to questions put forward by Newshub, LPC marketing manager Simon Munt confirmed Katrina’s Union raised allegations of bullying in 2013 on her behalf. 

"The report found no evidence that bullying and/or harassment occurred. The report made some recommendations about improvements that could be made and we understand that these were acted on." 

Katrina kept records of instances where she felt like she was being treated differently.
Katrina kept records of instances where she felt like she was being treated differently. Photo credit: Supplied.

Because of this result no disciplinary action was taken, he said. 

But Hey says the control of her mother's roster fell back into the hands of the co-worker involved, and issues remained with the two co-workers. 

Hey says while her mum did unsuccessfully apply for other jobs, she enjoyed the work at LPC and was determined to fix the problems she was facing. 

Following the findings of the investigation, Katrina made a folder labelled 'abuse' across the front in black vivid marker, seen by Newshub, and collected internal emails with hand-written notes on each one, now clues as to why Katrina's family now feel she was worn down to a point where she couldn't keep going. 

It is understood that Katrina dealt with personal issues throughout her seven-year employment but her family believe her work added extensive stress to her life. 

A close relative to Katrina told Newshub: "She went out of the way for work, she was a bloody good worker and they just treated her like shit. It wasn't the only reason she did it but it contributed a hell of a lot to it." 

Trina would have tuned 50 years old in February and was worried about facing difficulties trying to get a new job. 

"As you get older you think twice about leaving, how many people really want to employ 50-year-olds? It's not easy, it's not like being young. She needed security, she couldn't give in her notice and not have another job to go to," the relative said. 

Hey says her mum was a loving and caring mum who would do her best for her family.
Hey says her mum was a loving and caring mum who would do her best for her family. Photo credit: Supplied.

Inside the folder sit records of an incident that took place in October last year with a truck driver who she wouldn't let into the yard, because she had been instructed not to. 

Katrina claims he swore at her first, but the man alleged she swore at him first before an argument ensued.  

In a statement, she admitted to swearing at some point during the disagreement but was adamant she was not at fault. A disciplinary meeting was later held where she was issued a written warning. 

A relative, who asked not to be named, told Newshub that when Katrina went in for the written warning, another employee said to her "I hope you've got your tissues, you'll need them". 

"They all knew before she did that she was getting a written warning." 

In the aftermath, Katrina made the first attempt to take her own life. 

Hey says it was completely by luck that she wasn't successful. She had got "the craziest feeling" when a wave came over her that she needed to speak with her mum urgently. 

She rushed to her mum's home to find her unresponsive, immediately called an ambulance and got her to the hospital. 

"She would have died that day. I looked into my beautiful mother's eyes and her soul was gone." 

A note she wrote that was found at her home listing worries regarding her employment. 

It includes having her hours used against her, being paid the same or very close "to newbies", being overlooked for a performance review and hearing a manager was continually speaking ill of her behind her back. 

It is understood she had access to an adult community psychiatric service following the suicide attempt. 

An area of Hey's home is dedicated to remembering her mum.
An area of Hey's home is dedicated to remembering her mum. Photo credit: Supplied.

A letter from the West Crisis Resolution Team eight days before her death, dated December 17, 2019, says it was closing her case, and her GP would be responsible for psychiatric treatment moving forward. 

Two days before Katrina died, her same manager, told her she would be underpaid for six hours due to an oversight. According to hand-written notes on printed emails found at Karina's home, she felt being overlooked was personal. 

Katrina was told in the correspondence the disparity would be fixed the following week, but she never made it. 

On the morning of Christmas Day, Hey saw her mum for the last time. 

"She told me that she had no need for the gift and wished me a Merry Christmas." 

  • Read part 2 here: Lyttelton Port Company workers say 'rife' bullying 'tip of the iceberg' after staffer's sudden death

A day went by and on December 27, Hey called her mum's cell phone and she realised the answerphone had been deleted. 

"I didn't know what to think. For hours, I went over and over it in my head: 'she wouldn't do this, she promised me'." 

At 9pm, Hey called the police and asked them to go over to her mother's address. Recalling the phone call, she says all she can remember is the pain. 

"I was shattered. My heart rattled in my chest in a way I can't explain." 

The loss has devastated Hey who says she carries a lot of guilt for not realising something was going to happen sooner. She's also extremely frustrated and angry at LPC and believes they failed in their duty of care. 

"The only thing that keeps me going every night is knowing that she's not at that job getting bullied. She can't feel unsafe any more so that has to be a good thing, right?" 

Recently, one of Katrina's former colleagues told Hey about her experience with her mum at LPC.

The woman, who asked not to be identified, says she worked at LPC for three months in 2019 before leaving due to stress. 

"It's the same boss that bullied your mum. Another man I started with has also left. He lasted seven months," the woman recounted.

"I liked your mum, she was great at her job but unappreciated. I hope she has found peace now.

"Looking back Katrina did more work than any of us. She got no thanks for it. They make you feel dumb if they thought you couldn't manage the job." 

A close relative said the treatment Katrina faced was "totally unethical and pathetic" and was told weekly of different struggles she was up against. 

Maryline Suchley from anti-bullying organisation Culture Safe believes there is enough evidence to suggest Katrina was a victim of workplace bullying. 

"Unfortunately she didn't get the opportunity to take her case forward, she actually raised complaints about bullying and did it formally, but of course it wasn't taken seriously, and it still carried on, had she been able to take her case to ERA, she would have stood a good chance of winning." 

She says LPC should have taken more consideration for her health and safety but didn't. 

In a statement, LPC said it takes bullying in the workplace very seriously and, "like all good employers, will thoroughly investigate any allegations of bullying". 

It said direct support was provided to Katrina’s mother after her death, and flowers were sent to the funeral. 

Now Katrina's daughter, who has two children of her own, is fighting to gain some form of justice for her mum. She has started a Facebook page Justice for Katrina Hey to spread awareness about her mum's story. 

"When did they help? They never helped. They can do a lot better," she says. 

Hey wants processes to be put in place to ensure no one feels like they cannot speak out about how they are treated in a work environment like her mum.
Hey wants processes to be put in place to ensure no one feels like they cannot speak out about how they are treated in a work environment like her mum. Photo credit: Supplied.

Hey says she was reassured there would be an investigation into Katrina’s death but has heard nothing.  

Simon Munt from LPC told Newshub the company conducted a comprehensive review of Katrina’s personnel files and her communications with the colleagues identified, going back to 2013. 

He said their findings indicate no evidence on these files that any bullying and harassment occurred.

Hey is now calling for better education around how to talk about hard times. She wants the company to put in place processes so employees feel supported to speak out. 

"It's okay to not be okay sometimes. Please reach out to your support systems. Family, friends - anyone you trust."  

She wants to see all Kiwis be aware of the way they treat each other. 

"I think we just really really need to educate ourselves at this point and stop looking away - and being like woah, that's hurtful because it will happen to you one day, you won't be able to turn away. 

"Are we even talking about our feelings? When are we educating ourselves about what we feel, when are we doing that, apparently we're not doing that until someone has a problem, and then it's too late, they get some label that it's their fault.

"I think education is key at this point, try and be at least kind if not civil, otherwise just walk away." 

A Coronial Services spokesperson told Newshub Hey's case is active before the coroner. 

Where to find help and support: 

  • Shine (domestic violence) - 0508 744 633
  • Women's Refuge - 0800 733 843 (0800 REFUGE)
  • Need to Talk? - Call or text 1737
  • What's Up - 0800 WHATS UP (0800 942 8787)
  • Lifeline - 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
  • Youthline - 0800 376 633, text 234, email talk@youthline.co.nz or online chat
  • Samaritans - 0800 726 666
  • Depression Helpline - 0800 111 757
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
  • Shakti Community Council - 0800 742 584
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