Last week, I joined with former MP Tau Henare and First Union president Robert Reid to deliver a blunt message to Ports of Auckland chairman Bill Osborne: It's time for your chief executive to go.
Two things compelled us to act.
First, like most Aucklanders, we were alarmed by the findings of a review into safety at the ports, which, in Robert Reid's words, "really blew the whistle on what was happening at Ports of Auckland".
Second, we were horrified by response to the review of Ports chief executive Tony Gibson, which was in my opinion arrogant and dismissive. Both factors suggested to us that Gibson is not up the job - and in my view this isn't acceptable for a publicly-owned entity whose failures can be measured in lost lives.
Over a three-year period, two workers at the Ports of Auckland lost their lives due to incidents on the wharves, and in 2017 a pilot boat going at seven times the legal speed limit struck and killed an ocean swimmer. Numerous other injuries and near misses have been reported. Such an appalling safety record has no place in New Zealand in 2021.
In March, a review by Construction Health and Safety New Zealand (CHSNZ) placed responsibility squarely on Ports of Auckland (POAL) management, finding "systemic problems at POAL in relation to critical Health and Safety risk management and organisational culture that relate to Health and Safety".
The review found "opportunity for significant improvement" - in my view a polite way of saying the status quo is a disaster.
Among the recommendations were that chief executive Tony Gibson "prioritise safety over productivity and profitability", help to change "at-risk behaviours", and communicate proactively to staff about safety, instead of reactively.
Taken as a whole, the review in my opinion could hardly be more damning - which is what makes POAL's actions since its release so baffling and infuriating to me. Take these words from their public response to the review, which stopped me in my tracks: "The report has focused on the things that need improving, which can make it appear like a daunting challenge for the organisation. However, it is not."
Imagine that. A review finds systemic, cultural, process and communications failures across your organisation leading to avoidable death and injury - and your response, in my view, boils down to "no big deal".
It really begs the question of POAL board and management: if making your workplace safe is such a walk in the park - so undaunting, in your own terms - what on earth stopped you from doing it sooner?
Ports CEO Tony Gibson offered one explanation for past failures during an appearance on Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme last December: Māori and Pasifika workers who, he claimed, are too "shy" to report safety concerns.
To me, if there's reluctance on the part of your workforce to share critical health and safety information, the problem is with the culture of your organisation - not the cultural heritage of your workers.
Despite leading an organisation owned by the public via Auckland Council's 100 per cent stake, it seems to me Tony Gibson just doesn't get it.
Mayor Phil Goff knows full well the chain of command, as shown by his comments in response to the CHSNZ review. "Changes need to be made to the way the Ports run," Goff said, "and it is my expectation that he [Gibson] and the board will hold management accountable for these changes. Council, in turn, will hold the board accountable".
It's clear to me what must happen now. In my opinion, Gibson should resign. If he doesn't, the Board should act. If they refuse, the Council should sort out the Board.
The stakes really are that high.
It is Gibson's duty to protect the health and lives of the kaimahi on that port. I believe he has failed in that duty - too many people have been injured, and too many families have lost loved ones.
What's worse, the Ports' response to the review gives us no confidence they appreciate the gravity or urgency of the safety challenge. Quite the opposite. Instead, there has been lots of downplaying and blame-shifting, along with an imperious refusal to engage with the public or media beyond carefully crafted talking points. The focus seems more on protecting reputations than saving lives.
A change of chief executive may be a blunt tool but, in the case of Tony Gibson and the Ports of Auckland it is, in my view, the essential next step in turning the organisation around.