Community leaders deliver letter calling for Port of Auckland chief executive Tony Gibson to be sacked over safety failures

More community leaders and activists have joined calls for the resignation or sacking of Ports of Auckland chief executive Tony Gibson.

And once chairman Bill Osborne has done that, he should quit too, they say - after three deaths and a string of injuries at the port in recent years. 

"In a three-year period, two port workers lost their lives due to accidents on the wharves, a speeding pilot boat accidentally struck and killed an ocean swimmer and numerous near misses and other accidents have been reported," Independent Maori Statutory Board deputy chair Tau Henare, political commentator Shane Te Pou and FIRST Union general secretary Robert Reid said in a statement.

"This is an appalling safety record and it beggars belief that Tony Gibson has said that he was unaware or many of the issues raised but will stay on to put things right."

The trio, joined by Auckland Councillor Efeso Collins and longtime unionists Matt McCarten and Laila Harré, personally delivered a letter calling for Gibson's sacking to the Ports of Auckland offices on Fergusson Wharf on Thursday morning. 

"They literally have blood on their hands," Te Pou told Newshub on Wednesday night.

"Two men went to work and never returned home, simply because of the failures of the CEO and the chair to keep them safe at work. It beggars belief that the report initiated by the Mayor of Auckland came as a surprise to the CEO, in respect to the health and safety lapses that have occurred on his site on his watch. I don't think that's believable."

Last year, a stevedore was crushed by a container and in 2018, a worker died when the straddle carrier he was driving tipped over. In 2017, a swimmer was hit and killed by a Ports of Auckland pilot boat.

An independent review released just over a week ago made Gibson "feel sick", but not enough for him to resign.

"I have to remedy that, and I feel a moral obligation to do so," he told Newshub. "I'm gonna make sure it doesn't happen again."

Te Pou said the port's management instead needs to be swept clean.

"We have no faith in him fixing the issues. He's had plenty of time."

Appearing on The AM Show ahead of delivering the letter, Henare said no one had confidence Gibson was up to the task, except Osborne. 

"I would expect a chairman of the board of your business to say, 'Enough's enough, see you later,'" the former National Party MP said. 

"When you have a chief executive that says, 'I didn't know what was going on,' shame on him. There's three people that have been killed - two workers and a poor person who was swimming past the port, for goodness' sake. The first one, people accept it - put in a plan and mitigate all those safety issues. [But] a third one?"

Gibson last week said the Ports of Auckland had accepted all the report's recommendations. 

Asked if Gibson had the right to have a go at fixing the problems highlighted in the independent report, Henare said "sort of".

"But only after the first lot... if you make a mistake you fix it. That's how easy it is. He's had two or three chances... he's had enough. He's got to go."

Te Pou said Auckland Mayor Phil Goff should publicly call on Gibson to resign. 

"I think it's quite clear Mayor Goff has no confidence in him... I think that the Mayor should state publicly what he feels - that he has no confidence in the CEO or the chairperson, and he should look at promoting perhaps Hazel Armstrong."

Armstrong, a lawyer with a specialty in health and safety, was appointed by Goff to the Ports of Auckland board late last year. Goff has in the past said Gibson's fate is "wholly in the hands of the board of the Ports of Auckland". 

Ports of Auckland told Newshub it "respectfully received the letter" and heard the group's concerns.

"We won't be making any further comment at this stage. Our focus is on implementing the recommendations of the report as soon as possible."