Ports of Auckland board warns it will take 'a long time' to change 'poor' culture

The board for Ports of Auckland is warning it will take a long time to change the company's culture after a damning report revealed systemic problems with health and safety risk management and organisational culture.

The independent review, which was conducted by Construction Health and Safety New Zealand (CHASNZ), was released on Tuesday.

It makes for difficult reading; 'lack of morale', 'systemic problems' and 'trust gaps'.

Chief Executive Tony Gibson was asked what he thought when he read it, he replied: "it made me feel sick".

But it's especially sickening for Gibson because it makes clear the issues stem from the top - and that's him.

"I thought I set a tone, but obviously the report said something different, so obviously I have to remedy that, and I feel a moral obligation to do so," he told Newshub.

Lives depend on it. Three families have already been let down, with three deaths at the ports in recent years.

One involved a swimmer who died when they were hit by a pilot boat. Most recently, Palaamo Kalati was crushed to death by a container on a ship.

"When I saw Palaamo's family, the family said to me, 'Tony, how can you make sure this never happens again?' I'm gonna make sure it doesn't happen again," Gibson said.

But the Maritime Union is outraged that Gibson still has the top job.

"If you spent any time with the families or the people who were close to the accidents down there, they feel really let down. Really let down," spokesperson Russell Mayn said.

The report's authors surveyed close to 700 employees:

  • 39 percent felt that after an accident workers take the blame,
  • 6 percent felt they would be punished just for reporting the safety issue,
  • 25 percent felt that leadership didn't care about workers - just getting work done faster,
  • 31 percent said supervisors act like they care after someone was hurt, but it doesn't last long.

Minister for Workplace Safety Michael Wood said "no one could be comfortable" with the report's findings, the level of deaths, and serious injuries in recent years. 

The Ports have committed to adopting all recommendations, including:

  • The chief executive prioritising safety over profitability,
  • An improved relationship with the Union,
  • Improved trust and engagement between management and the frontline. 

The board is promising it'll happen immediately, but - "you don't change that much overnight right, it takes a long time to change culture, it forms over time", chair Bill Osborne told Newshub.

Time is already ticking as Mayor Phil Goff - who commissioned the report - has put management on notice.

"We are now expecting immediate and substantial improvement," he said.

He's hoping Tuesday marks a day of new beginnings across the port.