Election 2023: Labour's Shanan Halbert labelled bully by multiple former employees

Labour leader Chris Hipkins is standing by one of his MPs, despite a number of former employees coming forward to Newshub calling Shanan Halbert a bully.

The Labour Party was alerted to concerns about his alleged behaviour a year ago but because staffers wanted to remain anonymous, no formal process was undertaken

Hipkins is now urging anyone who might feel they have been treated badly by Halbert to come forward and engage in an anonymous process.

Halbert is Labour's Northcote MP and candidate. He's all smiles all the time, presenting positivity.

But a number of former staff members have approached Newshub with a different story. They say he's a bully.  

Hipkins told Newshub "no concerns have been raised directly with me".

The staff members worked with Halbert in a range of roles. None wanted to appear on camera for fear of retribution. Newshub has agreed to protect their identities.

They told Newshub that Halbert was "manipulative", "scheming", "a narcissist" and that they live in fear of him.  

Newshub tried to organise an on-camera interview with Halbert, but he declined.

On a quick phone call with Halbert, Newshub asked if he had ever bullied anyone at work.

"I mean there's been certainly challenges in employment over different parts of my life but I can't pinpoint any particular time that you might be referring to," he said.

One staff member told Newshub that "he was just an a**hole."  

"I felt belittled, I felt unsafe."  

They said: "I was broken when I left his office, absolutely broken."

Another said: "he treated me like shit".

And another: "I felt intimidated being around him".

Halbert provided a statement to Newshub on Thursday night: "I've had good working relationships with staff both inside parliament and in other roles I've held outside of parliament".

"Occasionally employment issues arise in any workplace, but I have always done my best to work through those professionally and appropriately sought advice and support where required. 

"These issues have only been brought to my attention through the media today. I've never had a formal complaint raised against me. 

"If a staff member feels that they were poorly treated then I would like to resolve this by engaging in the process that parliament has set up for dealing with complaints. I think it's important for the person that's made allegations anonymously and for me. It's so important that the safety and well-being of all people involved is maintained. That would be the best and fairest way to resolve this."

Hipkins said that after the issue was raised with him on Thursday morning, he made further enquiries to see if concerns had been raised with anyone else.

There had - this is not news to the Labour Party.  

Newshub has obtained email chains, which directly raise concerns with Labour's former chief Whip Duncan Webb.  

The first alert came from a bullying and harassment consultant acting on behalf of some of Halbert's former staffers.

They emailed Webb on August 22 last year and listed Halbert's behaviour in black and white.

The email said that Halbert had made staff members "cry in front of others", "publicly humiliated them", "played staff off against each other", and "shouted" at staff.  

"That behaviour, on the surface of it, is not acceptable," said Hipkins.

The email outlined the impact it was having on one staff member in particular saying she was feeling "paranoid and unable to sleep", "walking around on eggshells feeling a failure", feeling that "nothing she does is good enough", and "crying easily and sometimes unable to stop".

The email also pointed out the staffer was "concerned he will victimise her if she complains".

"That is very serious and it should be taken seriously," said Hipkins.

Webb responded to the email the day after it was sent saying: "I can't take any formal steps on this information. But I can assure you this is both important and helpful."

Hipkins said that because the individual was anonymous and the people didn't want to be identified or have the fact they had made a complaint or raised the issue identified, the Labour Whips team made appropriate enquiries.

Three weeks later, Webb responded again saying he had followed and "could not see a consistent thread in the various conversations I had, so I have not taken any further particular action."

Newshub understands one former staff member raised concerns with parliamentary service in an anonymous capacity and received confirmation that the Labour Whips had spoken to Halbert about those concerns.

Asked if he was comfortable with Halbert running as a candidate, Hipkins said: "I'm not going to form a judgment on someone based on information I cannot verify but if there are people who have these concerns I really would encourage them to raise them through an appropriate process because there are now much better processes in place than there have been in the past."

The staffers told us they were speaking up because of Halbert's recent complaint about National MP Tim van de Molen bullying him at a Select Committee.

The Privileges Committee censured the National MP and Halbert condemned him at the time.

"Certainly there's no place for that sort of behaviour for threatening behaviour or intimidation in Parliament," Halbert said.

The response of one former staffer to that: "How dare he. How dare you accuse someone of being a bully with how you treat people."