Transport Minister Phil Twyford was warned about Civil Aviation Authority's sexual harassment claims

Newshub can reveal Transport Minister Phil Twyford received information a year ago that sexual harassment and bullying was "openly tolerated" by the Civil Aviation Authority's (CAA) management.

However, when asked about it recently, he denied prior knowledge of the issues.

Newshub Investigations Reporter Michael Morrah spoke to Twyford two months ago after a current CAA employee made claims of poor culture and complaints not being addressed by managers. At the time, Twyford said he was "not aware" of such issues.

But letters obtained under the Official Information Act show the CAA chairman Nigel Gould sent him a letter about these exact problems in August last year. The Minister's now accused of being misleading - although he doesn’t think that’s the case, saying one complaint doesn’t mean a problem with culture.

The CAA's job is to keep us safe in the skies. But current and former staff are warning that internal strife is hindering its ability to do that.

"It's toxic. The bullying and harassment is widespread through all levels of the organisation," one person told Newshub.

Four people all say their complaints of either sexual harassment or bullying were "swept under the carpet" by managers at the CAA. 

It echoes what Newshub heard from another employee two months ago.

"It's a culture of secrecy and cover-up," they said.

Now Morrah has discovered a letter from the CAA's chairman Nigel Gould to Twyford on 3 August last year. The letter's about a complaint from a staff member, who says CAA has "a culture where sexual harassment and bullying is openly tolerated, and that the CAA leadership has taken no action to address".

The letter was supported by evidence from a survey about the problems, which included the views of "14 other members of the Authority".

The Transport Minister read the chair's letter and spoke to him. However, just two months ago Twyford told Morrah he was "not aware of anything that tallies up with the kind of criticism that the person in your story is making".

Newshub showed the chairman's letter to this group of informants - they say the Minister isn't being straight up.

"I think that's very misleading," one said.

So, Newshub went back to Twyford, who said he didn't believe he had been misleading and insisted he had been "very up front".

He says while he never read the staff member's full complaint, he did read the letter from the chairman about the complaint. 

When asked if he is 100 percent satisfied that everything is going well, Gould told Newshub he is "getting very close to being in that position".

Asked about current staff speaking to a journalist, rather than managers, he said the CAA does take action on complaints and it has policies to support staff.

"And if they're not using those, you've got to ask what their motive is in going to the public the way they are through you."

The Human Rights Commission says in a general sense, suggesting complainants have a motive isn't helpful.

"If an organisation receives information to suggest that despite their policies, victims don't feel safe, then that should raise flags for leadership," Equal Employment Opportunities and Women's Rights Commissioner Saunoamaali'i Karanina Sumeo says.

The letter shows the staff member believed an independent, external investigation was needed. But this was dismissed by Gould, who questioned Morrah's informants' motivation.

They say they've spoken out because even after making their complaints were, they felt targeted, they were criticised and they say they saw that behaviour repeated. 

They say they’ve gone public to put a stop to that behaviour and force a change in culture at the CAA.

Last year the chairman reassured the Minister an independent investigation was not needed as it was already "undertaking significant work to address the issues".

And the CAA says its "diversity and inclusion programme is producing excellent results".


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