Workplace bullying victim speaks out against 'institutionalised racism' at NZCare

A former employee told Newshub he doesn't think the NZCare workers are racists but have grown to accept a racially-divided culture.
A former employee told Newshub he doesn't think the NZCare workers are racists but have grown to accept a racially-divided culture. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Another former NZCare Disability employee has spoken out against "racism", "abuse" and workplace bullying they claim to have endured as a staff member.

James* says the unfair treatment he faced as a Māori at the Christchurch branch started with management and made its way down the business' chain until it became normalised in the company's culture.

He alleges the behaviour directed at him made him become anxious and depressed, and he ultimately left his job at NZCare due to the severity of the company's actions.

It comes after two other former NZCare employees spoke to Newshub about the "toxic", "unethical" and "unprofessional" practices they claim to have endured at the company.

'My mana was worthless' 

James worked at NZCare as a community support worker for 16 months, leaving in February this year, but says the racist behaviour only started in August last year when a new manager joined the team.

Once they came onboard, the racism became "normalised" at the company, and it became especially bad with the client James was working with. His client's behaviour had never been an issue before the new manager started, he says.

"The client would be racist. He'd use the N-word, c**t, dirty Indians, all sorts of things. But from other staff it was more undertone racism that I experienced, more institutionalised racism discrimination," he told Newshub.

"If you wanted to work in that service, pretty much you couldn't be Indian, Pacific Islander or Māori. It was alright at the start, but once that [manager] came in it started turning."

But it wasn't just James who endured the alleged racist behaviour, it was many other people too.

"I'm Māori, so not just me, not just Māori people, but Indian, Pacific Island and Filipino people all experienced it."

When he spoke to his managers about the behaviour he was facing, he says he didn't receive any help.

"First I went to the team leader, which was my superior, and she pretty much didn't say anything. But I went higher, so I went to my managers, then my specialist manager and then a behaviour specialist person with my concerns around the violence and racism," he says.

"They didn't [help at all]. They created meetings, and pretty much they told me that the client doesn't know what he's saying and that I have to stay there and tough it out. And they wouldn't give me any training or support around that. That's what I was asking for, a way to challenge that behaviour, a way that I can control it and stop it from happening."

He says he was also told to leave his "values and beliefs" at the door when he came into work each day - something that he says as a Māori is counter to his personal morals.

"As a person of culture, that goes against my values and pretty much against the Treaty of Waitangi. I felt like my identity was stripped and my mana was worthless."

James then asked to be transferred out of the service he was in and get hours elsewhere in the company, but he says this was declined by his managers. This is despite "eight other" Pākehā staff being able to relocate when they requested, with James saying he was the "only person who wasn't allowed to move out".

When he tried to move off his permanent contract into casual hours, he says this was also "ignored" by managers.

'It's the people at the top'

James says the alleged behaviour starts at the top of NZCare's management chain, but he doesn't believe staff are intentionally racist - instead it's become ingrained and normalised in the workplace culture.

"It's just what's been allowed. They're not racist people, but I think it's just the culture of it. It's that institutionalised racism," he says.

"It starts from the top, it's the people at the top. From my opinion, I've seen some really good staff who are of different ethnicities and cultures and of other countries, and they just get taken advantage of."

He also says NZCare claims it follows the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and Māori health initiatives, but he believes it's just a front.

"On their website and when you have your job interview, they say that they follow the Treaty of Waitangi and also this health model called Te Whare Tapa Whā - which is the four cornerstones of health - and then also Whānau Ora," he says.

"But they don't actually walk the walk, they just say that they use these models when they actually don't. And they don't have any other Māori practices; they don't karakia, they don't have any training around this sort of stuff either."

This has led him to feel distressed in his role.

"It's very uncomfortable [working in a Pākehā-centred environment]. As not just a support worker, when I've tried to raise my concerns or try to raise some things that maybe could be done better, it'll just get shut down. You're just meant to endure the racism, violence and abuse."

NZCare employees formerly told Newshub their ability to perform their jobs, self-confidence and capability to move forward into other work was being impacted by their treatment.
NZCare employees formerly told Newshub their ability to perform their jobs, self-confidence and capability to move forward into other work was being impacted by their treatment. Photo credit: Getty Images.

After leaving his role, James says his belief in himself was destroyed.

"I lost all the confidence. I was shattered mentally. I was a little bit depressed and very anxious."

He has since started a job. While he says he still gets anxious, he feels "well-supported" in his new role.

James is currently in mediation with NZCare over his claims. Mediation was meant to happen three months ago, he says, but NZCare kept changing the dates on him.

"Even that still feels like I'm being bullied. I feel like, from that, it's not being taken seriously and they're still continuing their undermining and their undertoned racism."

Ultimately, he would like to see a change in behaviour at NZCare.

"I want their culture and the way they deal with and handle these situations to change, and for them to take it seriously and try and move forward in a positive way," he says.

"I see myself as reasonably strong and I can handle it, but I feel like some people that go into this with mental illnesses, it could bring on suicide."

'Bullying, harassment or discrimination have no place' 

HealthCare NZ, of which NZCare is a subsidiary, says it has "zero tolerance" of any form of workplace bullying, harassment or discrimination in its workplace.

Chief executive Vanessa Dudley says although she can't discuss James' case since it is in mediation, NZCare doesn't accept racism in any area of its company and instead encourages a culture that supports diversity, inclusion and empathy.

"Our staff are encouraged to raise issues or incidents of bullying through both formal and informal processes, which are taken seriously and formally investigated," she says.

"It remains important for everyone involved in this particular case that there is a thorough examination of the issues, along with any evidence of workplace bullying presented during the mediation."

She says there are high expectations of behaviour for every employee, and these standards are set out in its code of conduct.

Staff can confidentially raise any incident to its human resources advisors, their peers, line manager or use the Whistle Blower and Protected Disclosures process, she says. Dudley can also be emailed directly with any issues, including bullying and harassment,

There is also its Māori leadership group Te Ahi Kā, which Dudley says has an important role within the company and helps develop its Māori Health and Disability plan.

"Te Ahi Kā provides guidance to maintaining our cultural responsiveness by removing barriers for accessing our services, ensuring the inclusion of Māori values, beliefs and cultural practices in our training programmes, supporting development of Māori staff career pathways, providing advice on engaging with iwi and achieving successful health outcomes for Māori communities."

Dudley says she gives her "full assurance" to all staff, clients and families that bullying, harassment or discrimination have no place at the company and aren't tolerated.

"Any issues, including the claims raised in this case, are thoroughly investigated to identify any problems, find a resolution, and implement any necessary changes and actions."

* - A fake name has been used to protect James' identity.