The wife of an injured Ports of Auckland worker is furious at management’s claims they were unaware of the scale of the health and safety shortcomings revealed this week in a highly critical report .
After three port-related deaths, Auckland Mayor Phil Goff ordered the independent review. It revealed systemic safety failures, suspected underreporting of accidents, as workers feared to speak out.
Ports of Auckland chief executive Tony Gibson says he was unaware things were going so badly and is refusing to step down, despite growing calls for him to walk.
In 2015, the port was fined $ 55,000 and paid compensation of $ 25,000 after failing to ensure the safety of a worker seriously injured in a work-related accident.
Gibson had been the harbor master for about three years when senior longshoreman Neil Bower was injured on January 22, 2014.
Bower stood on the deck of a ship unloading freight containers. The job was to use a special 5m long pole to unlock the fasteners on containers stacked two or three high.
He lost his balance, fell from the deck of the boat into the water, hitting objects in the fall. His injuries included multiple body fractures, lacerations to his lungs, and tendon injuries. He was hospitalized for three months and his convalescent treatment is underway.
There was supposed to be a safety rail and a specially designed safety cage lifted by a crane, but neither was there. The setup had passed a pre-job safety inspection, but it should not have.
The 2015 Sentencing Notes read: “The Ports of Auckland have frankly and frankly accepted the failures.”
Minutes from a restorative justice session show Neil Bower was reluctant to speak openly about the issues because he feared “it might be held against him.”
Years later, in March 2021, Gibson spoke at a press conference, expressing shock at the findings of the damning report which included a litany of health and safety deficiencies.
“I didn’t know about them,” he said.
But in 2017, Jo Bower emailed Gibson detailing her husband Neil’s struggles since his accident.
“Neil is appalled that unsafe work practices continue with the full knowledge of Auckland Ports management. I would have thought with the new health and safety regulations which now mean CEOs and the board can be held responsible for this cavalier attitude to health and safety has ceased. “
In response, Gibson said, “Your statement is of great concern to me and I’m not sure what you are referring to. I will remind Neil that under the new health and safety regulations he has also the duty to report violations to his manager. problems can be solved. “
On Tuesday, March 31, 2021, Gibson responded to the report which echoed concerns raised in Jo Bower’s email.
“It made me feel sick and again I felt a moral obligation to find out why this is happening and make sure that I can lead a program of work that will act on the recommendations.”
‘Absolute bulls —‘
Speaking publicly for the first time on the issue, Jo Bower said Checkpoint Gibson’s comments were “absolute bulls —“.
“It just made me so angry, I wanted to throw things on TV. He knows exactly what’s going on there, he just buries his head.
“It was an accident for which the ports were condemned. And they sure didn’t make it easy for [Neil].
“And Tony Gibson himself, his communication is appalling. I sent him an e-mail. He came back saying he had tried to contact or contacted my husband, and Neil never heard from him.
“Neil works three days a week, five hours a day at the harbor. If Tony Gibson really wanted to contact him to discuss issues, he knows where he is.
“When Neil had his accident Tony Gibson sat in our house and said he wanted Neil to be his eyes and ears on the harbor because who better to talk than someone who has walked .
“And that never happened.”
Neil could have been a health and safety supervisor, but Jo said his job is now menial.
“He’s an excellent broomstick painter, he sorts rags into bags, he sweeps the floors… Sometimes, if he’s really lucky, he can load or unload trucks with the hoist.
“He’s someone who’s been working on the waterfront for over 25 years… You have the best promoter in your workforce to advance the health and safety issue, but they don’t want him. .
“He can’t climb ladders, his balance isn’t good so he can’t get on a boat. He would have loved to have been able to do the health and safety thing, and tell new people, and even to existing people, that “Shortcuts are not worth doing, do it right”, because you have an accident and your life is f —- d. “
“He is 62 years old now, at the time of the accident he was 55, 56 years old. Who would hire someone this age? He cannot work back to back. Pain, unfortunately, his body does not allow it. So no- we’re really going to want to employ someone like that. “
She said Checkpoint she’s speaking now because she’s sick of Gibson and Ports of Auckland dealing with “spout bulls —“.
“Sometimes the ports of Auckland were very good to us in the early days. But we had to fight for things. Neil is fair, he is fed up, but he knows he won’t find a job elsewhere. . “
“He feels like he’s banging his head against a brick wall, but unfortunately for him, I just don’t want to let things go. I see the injustice and I’m pissed off.
“I would hate for another family, I look at these three other families who lost their loved ones [in port accidents], and I’m very lucky, my daughter and I, we still have it here.
“But he is gentleman and light gentleman to the people outside but you come home, the door closes, pain, fatigue and frustration.”
Jo Bower believed that a culture of silence and fear of speaking out still existed at the port.
“It’s productivity, profitability comes before safety. Otherwise, why would you get a productivity bonus?”
Gibson was not fit for the CEO job, she said.
“He just needs to admit it, he has to own it, he has to stop making excuses. And they just need someone in there to run this place properly.”
Checkpoint approached Auckland ports for comment, but they have not received a response.