Nikki Preston

Nikki Preston is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Museum worker faced extreme job pressure before death

File photo / NZ Herald
File photo / NZ Herald

The wife of a museum worker believes increasing work pressure, staff cuts and bullying in the last 12 months of his job led to him jumping off a Hamilton bridge in view of his workplace, a coroner's inquest has been told.

Dr Raymond Mayes died in June last year, and his wife Julie wrote to the coroner to ask him to investigate whether the suspected suicide was linked to bullying during her husband's time as a science educator at the Hamilton City Council-operated Waikato Museum, a role he held for 12 years.

Mrs Mayes told coroner Wallace Bain in Hamilton today that her husband had been passionate about his job, but it had become extremely stressful in his last year as a result of council-wide budget cuts and a new museum director. Redundancies were made and staff resigned, which resulted in an increasingly heavy workload, she said.

Mrs Mayes said the 55-year-old did not have a history of depression and had never indicated he had planned to take his life. She said her husband was an "exceptional person" who had been "enthusiastic and excitable" in his work, and was both academic and physical with a love of camping, water skiing and tramping.

While he never used the word bullying to describe work, she said prior to his death he had said he was under extreme pressure and frustrated by the lack of funding. Mrs Mayes described it as an "increasingly toxic environment". By March last year, almost 50 per cent of museum staff had left.

At the start of 2013 his role changed from science educator to multi-disciplined educator as a result of the number of educators being reduced from three to two. His new role involved a Maori component, which resulted in him studying Te Reo in the evenings.

Former Waikato Museum curator for tangata whenua Moana Davey said at the time of the restructure staff were unhappy.

"I felt the educators were harassed, harangued and ambushed at this time."

She said it was unfair for Dr Mayes' new role to include tangata whenua when management was aware it was not his strength and he struggled with Maori words.

Senior Constable Garry Paton said Dr Mayes called police on his cell phone at 2.10am on Friday 21 June, 2013, to notify them there was a body under the Bridge St bridge just minutes from his office at the Waikato Museum.

When police arrived they found Dr Mayes' body, and on him was his cell phone, wallet and a letter to his wife and 18-year-old daughter Melissa.

In the suicide letter, Dr Mayes made no reference to bullying at work and instead referred to an issue with the water tanks at home, which had been replaced.

However Dr Mayes' doctor Dr Stewart Wells said it was his opinion that Dr Mayes was suffering from severe depression, although he had not treated Dr Mayes for depression.

However Hamilton City Council lawyer Mark Hammond said the council did not accept Dr Mayes was exposed to excessive stresses or that his workload had increased. He said Dr Mayes' new role did not require him to learn or teach in Te Reo and he argued the workload of the education team in the first two terms of 2013 was comparatively light.

Mr Hammond also pointed out that prior to his death, Dr Mayes' had things going on at home with his daughter moving into the university halls and his mother falling ill.

Council management also told the court the correct processes had been carried out during the restructure and there was no indication Dr Mayes was stressed or unhappy at work, and he had never complained about bullying.

In a submission to management on the proposal he said he supported the new structure apart from removing specialist fields for educators.

The inquest continues tomorrow.

Where to get help

Lifeline: 0800 543 534

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865

Youth services: (06) 3555 906

Youthline: 0800 376 633

Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (4pm to 6pm weekdays)

Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (noon to midnight)

The Word

Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (24-hour service)

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

CASPER Suicide Prevention

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

- NZ Herald

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