Bullying caused death, says widow

By Amanda Snow

Widow cites stress at Hamilton City Council work site in suspected suicide

Raymond Mayes.
Raymond Mayes.

Have you experienced bullying at the Council? Email newsdesk@nzherald.co.nz

A Hamilton woman has asked the coroner to investigate whether her husband's death was triggered by workplace bullying, fearing a "toxic" work environment at the Hamilton City Council may have pushed him to breaking point.

Dr Raymond Mayes worked for more than 10 years as a science educator at the council-operated Waikato Museum, a job his wife Julie says he used to love.

She says there had been a raft of major restructuring upheavals, budget cuts, staff losses and a dramatically increased workload, and he died recently in a suspected suicide. It has been referred to the coroner and Julie has written to him, asking if the events were linked.

Council chief executive Barry Harris said it would be a breach of trust to talk about a staff member, but "Ray's death has been tragic not only for his family but all of us".

In May an independent report from Quality Environmental Consulting Ltd sought to improve how the council treated claims of bullying and harassment and listed 39 recommendations.

Dr Mayes died in June and Julie suspects he simply couldn't face another day at work.

The museum, she says, was once a great place to work.

"He loved it. He looked at education as 'edu-tainment' and he captured his audience," she says. "There was a group of us that talked about our kids as the 'museum babies' because they basically grew up in the museum."

But last year, following a major cost-cutting shake-up, Julie says union membership went from four to 23 in about two weeks as people feared for their jobs. Since then 20 out of 42 of the original staff had left.

The two other educators took redundancy early this year - leaving Ray to cover all three jobs.

"They were whacking more exhibits through but because there was nobody else to do the teaching to visiting schools, Ray had to do all of it. Ray was a science educator, but he then had to cover history, art and Maori as well."

Ray, a perfectionist, had started teaching himself to speak Maori at night.

"Afterwards, the director did mention to me she thought he'd fallen asleep in his chair, and I thought, 'If that was my staff member I'd have delved a bit deeper'."

Ray had had a performance appraisal looming and she thinks that "pushed him over the edge".

A week before Ray died Julie says senior management criticised Ray in a team meeting about not meeting targets for visitor numbers.

Days later she was woken at 4am by police telling her he had been found dead. They later found his car 200m from work. "I've lost my soul mate, my best friend," she says.

The museum's union staff met recently and the Herald on Sunday has obtained a letter to director Cherie Meecham, from Public Service Association organiser Daryl Gatenby. "Of concern is that health and safety is an area they feel isn't always prioritised as high as it should be when the pressure to get the work done comes on."

Harris says the council is meeting with the union soon.

He acknowledges there has been strain on people as budgets were cut and reviews were necessary. "We have to be the best we can be to support our people through this time."

Eight positions were cut under the museum restructure and its budget was reduced by nearly $150,000 this year.

- Herald on Sunday

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