The knives are out for Ports of Auckland's chief executive officer.
Tony Gibson has been caught in the eye of a perfect storm - from Covid disruptions to global shipping; the automation project and critical skills shortages; and now he is accused of overseeing a culture that puts profits before health and safety.
The Maritime Union wants his letter of resignation.
Auckland Council, POAL's owner and the beneficiary of a stream of annual dividends while the port juggles a major capital spend to upgrade its core infrastructure, has also been stinging in its criticisms of the port, has suggested changes in the boardroom, and commissioned an independent investigation on "systemic" health and safety issues.
The findings pull no punches. The council wants a rapid improvement in culture, communication, reporting, trust between management and staff – with health and safety as the primary focus.
So does the CEO. He accepts, takes full responsibility, and is committed to implementing the report's recommendations, 100 per cent. But he and his executive and managers cannot do it alone.
Creating a culture that supports health and safety behaviours and actions is a team effort – a union between management and port staff. Management must provide the right tools, systems, processes and structures and turn wrongs to rights to keep everyone safe and minimise risks. Those workers who are on the job and on-site must look out for the health and safety of teammates.
Everyone must take personal accountability and responsibility no matter where they are in the organisation and what their job is. Health and safety is not a one-man band.
But listening to the aggressive statements, demands for Gibson to be sacked and the weaponising of health and safety issues for industrial relations leverage shows how little we have advanced, let alone learned.
The review suggests "the legacy of labour relations dissent is hampering the underlying organisational culture" and calls for all stakeholders to work positively to focus on creating a culture where H&S is the primary focus and minimum H&S expectations are agreed, supported and acted upon. The POAL board and management have no issue with those recommendations at all.
The chairman has publicly committed to working with the leadership and members of MUNZ, in partnership with the other unions and staff of Ports of Auckland, to create an organisational culture that supports strong, positive safety outcomes. MUNZ, however, has rejected any reciprocity to work constructively with the CEO.
This is not 1950s New Zealand. There are no picket lines, real or perceived. So why is the conversation skewed to a "them against us" yesteryear and a blame game with the CEO singled out personally as the target?
There is no argument but total consensus. Health and safety at the port has to improve. The culture and communication has to improve, but that means collective participation so that trust is earned and demonstrated in every way. And everyone, whatever their role, has to look out for their mate and flag issues right away, so remedial action can be taken promptly. A call to the union should not be the first let alone last resort.
Our port has to compete for trade in a global market. We are not living in a perfect world with perfect operations and perfect people. Criticising and undermining individuals and enterprises damages the port's reputation as an international freight hub and the Auckland brand.
As ratepayers, we own the port and have a reasonable expectation that our investment will ensure we have a port fit for the future with the technical, operational and people capabilities, productivity and profitability to keep Auckland on the map as a port of call.
We need to stop the barbs and sit down and work together constructively to build the culture that has the health and safety of the people who work there at its heart to support growth, prosperity and productivity.
• Michael Barnett is chief executive of the Auckland Business Chamber.
Editor's note: The Maritime Union has been invited to respond to this column.