Lyttelton Port Company announces independent investigation after culture of bullying exposed by employee's suicide

On Monday afternoon, LPC chief executive Roger Gray announced an independent investigation will be launched.
On Monday afternoon, LPC chief executive Roger Gray announced an independent investigation will be launched.

Lyttelton Port Company (LPC) has confirmed an independent investigation into its culture is imminent after employees called for standards to urgently change, claiming workplace bullying is 'rife' across the business. 

Last week, Newshub exposed allegations a woman who worked at the port, Katrina Hey, was a victim of workplace bullying throughout her seven-year employment before her suicide on Christmas Day last year.  

During her time with LPC, Katrina collected internal emails and records containing handwritten notes, after an investigation by LPC's human resources (HR) department into her formal bullying complaint was dismissed in 2013. 

Her family are now fighting for change to ensure others do not go through the same experience, while raising awareness about the hardships they say the 49-year-old faced during her time with LPC. 

After their claims were published, a number of current and former staffers contacted Newshub to share experiences of their own, raising questions about treatment of workers. 

On Monday afternoon, LPC chief executive Roger Gray announced an independent investigation will be launched. 

"Following the potentially serious nature of the issues in the story yesterday, it is clear to me that the process of culture change at LPC will need to be underpinned by a full independent investigation into bullying and harassment. 

"I consider the issues raised to be completely unacceptable. We will be bringing in an independent external person to conduct this review, and will begin this process as soon as possible. 

"It is my intention that this process will be open to current and former LPC staff, and development of the process and the terms of reference will begin in the next few days." 

Katrina Hey died on Christmas Day last year, leaving behind a collection of internal emails and documents that leave hints to the stress she was experiencing at work.
Katrina Hey died on Christmas Day last year, leaving behind a collection of internal emails and documents that leave hints to the stress she was experiencing at work. Photo credit: Supplied.

One worker told Newshub bullying is just the "tip of the iceberg" staffers face, with issues including a lack of support, stressful environments and living in fear of being pushed out. 

Regulatory Crime Expert and barrister Samuel Moore told Newshub he believes LPC is "legally required" to launch an independent investigation to uphold its duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA) as well as from WorkSafe’s expectations published throughout its guidance material.

Moore, a postgraduate lecturer at AUT in Health and Safety law, said pressure will be mounting on WorkSafe to investigate Katrina's death as a fatality as it also has a strong interest in regulating psycho-social harm (including bullying)

"It’s no secret that WorkSafe will be waiting for a suitable psycho-social harm case to prosecute under the new statute. 

"That would likely be a case where there is a strong chance of success (strong evidence showing a link between workplace practices and serious harm) and potentially where there is a degree of public interest.

"I would be surprised if WorkSafe did not investigate as this matter given the seriousness of the allegations and the outcome for Ms Hey."

In a statement on Friday, Gray said LPC needs "a complete transformation".

"While my first three months have been disrupted by dealing with the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, I have still worked to increase the level of engagement with our unions and our staff, and I have made it very clear that we will be introducing 'high performance high engagement' at LPC as soon as possible."

LPC admitted there are cultural issues at LPC and "a complete transformation" is needed.
LPC admitted there are cultural issues at LPC and "a complete transformation" is needed. Photo credit: Getty Images.

He says work has begun on developing a set of values and behaviours collaboratively with all staff at LPC, which will set the way forward as to how people are expected to act and behave, and what it means to be an employee of LPC.

"I will take a zero-tolerance approach to bullying and harassment," he said. 

Maryline Suchley from anti-bullying organisation Culture Safe told Newshub depression and anxiety are the two most common impacts of workplace bullying. 

She says this impacts an employee's ability to perform to their full potential because all they're thinking about is how they are being treated. 

A woman who has been with LPC for more than 12 years in different roles told Newshub that she had to put up with male colleagues regularly picking on her when she started out as a cargo handler.

She says many of the workers have family in the industry, often following in the footsteps of their fathers or grandfathers, which creates a difficult atmosphere to fit into.

She says she took a lot of the name-calling on the shoulder, whether it was a racial slur like "f***ing Māori" or misogyny like "get back in the kitchen".

Another employee who has been with the company almost two years told Newshub the culture at LPC is "every man for himself", and there is no feeling of being managed.

They say they are desperately trying to have a bullying complaint handled after being "belittled" in front of customers.

"It's like I am nothing. I just get hurt. I get hurt, and then I lose confidence and then go back in, and then it will happen again and I'll lose confidence and then I'll go back in again. It's a cycle and I just want it stopped."

A person in a union activist role said they once stood by a young woman who was copping ongoing slack from the men and found it too hard to handle.

"She had to take time off because she was getting bullied a lot."

Katrina Hey would have turned 50 in February.
Katrina Hey would have turned 50 in February. Photo credit: Supplied.

Over the last four years, they have personally sat in on more than 10 cases in which employees have tried to seek help for mistreatment.

"That's the company picking on people if they're not pulling their weight or the likes of the company bullying the people to get the best performance."

Another cargo handler told Newshub that LPC nepotism is "alive and well", and those with management positions are seen to be favouring relatives or friends.

He attempted raising an issue, and got a "stock-standard" response to workplace bullying. Essentially, he said, "they deny all allegations without due process".

On Monday, Newshub told the cargo handler that confirmation had been given an independent investigation would be held into LPC's culture. 

He said: "As an LPC employee with approximately 10 years experience,  I think an independent investigation into workplace bullying and harassment at every level is long overdue.

"I believe it will expose a management culture that intentionally disguises targeted bullying and harassment of individuals as legitimate discipline and performance issues. 

"I also suspect an independent audit will identify multiple inconsistencies between workplace policy verse management practice, and highlight the resulting lack of accountability due to their absolute disregard of transparency and objectivity in managing workplace relations.

"I believe LPC management use bullying as a dispute resolution tool - to threaten employees jobs and future roles or references to elicit compliance when a dispute occurs, and in my estimation exploit non-disclosure agreements to hide the true extent of the workplace issues that exist to ensure public record is avoided by bypassing the ERA completely."

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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