Auckland port CEOs $1m exit payout unjustified – Phil Goff

By Nita Blake-Persen of RNZ

The former Ports of Auckland boss brought in lawyers to negotiate his exit payout of nearly $1 million, but any details as to why he was given the money remain under wraps.

Tony Gibson resigned as the port’s chief executive in May following ongoing safety concerns.

Ports of Auckland’s most recent annual report revealed a payout to Gibson of nearly $1.8 million – a massive jump on his $820,000 salary in the previous year.

That payout drew criticism from the Maritime Union and Auckland mayor Phil Goff, who wrote to the port’s chairman Bill Osborne asking for an explanation.

In a response released to RNZ Checkpoint, Osborne said Auckland Council’s chief executive had been informed about the payment.

“The Board is cognisant of the governance processes set out in the Memorandum of Understanding with the Council and we considered that informing the Council CEO of the settlement with the former Chief Executive, prior to the publication of the 2021 Annual Report, met the necessary ‘no surprises’ disclosure.”

He went on to say “legal obligations” limited what could be said about the payment.

“What I can say, and this goes to your question about process as well, is that it was a negotiated outcome, both POAL and Mr Gibson had their own legal representation throughout the process and each party was advised as to their position given the employment contract in place with Mr Gibson.

“Given the importance and sensitivities of the matter, the decision was made by the Board, rather than its Remuneration Committee. The detailed negotiations were conducted under Board delegation and the Board approved the final arrangements.”

In a statement released on Monday afternoon, Goff said he was “strongly opposed to the level of payment made”.

“While the board had the legal power to make the payment, I do not believe it can be justified. The Board under its no surprises policy should have given notice of its intentions to make the payment and the reasons for it. Informing the council’s chief executive of the payment months after it was made public and just prior to release of POAL’s annual report does not in my view meet the requirements of the no surprises policy.”

Bill Osborne is retiring from the board at the end of week and Goff said he would be raising the payment issue with the incoming chair, ‘with the expectation that this situation is not repeated’.

Meanwhile the payment has been labelled as “ridiculous” by the brother of a young stevedore who was killed in a workplace accident at the Ports in 2018.

The port was fined $540,000 over Laboom Dyer’s death and ordered to pay $136,000 in reparations.

Tua Dyer said that was crazy.

“I think that’s absolutely ridiculous, I mean they didn’t even pay that for my brother’s death. I don’t see how they could argue that Tony deserves that kind of payout … when he was getting paid out because of the deaths, wasn’t he?”

“They’ve clearly had the money to pay more, or provide more support financially to the families, and they just didn’t.”

Dyer said Ports of Auckland should front up on why Gibson was paid so much.

“I don’t see how they ended up on that figure. I mean that’s a gigantic amount of money. I don’t see how his time there – considering he had three deaths on his time there – I don’t see how that’s worth the $1.8 million that they’ve paid him out now.

“The families don’t even get to know why or what’s happening, and they’ve always been so secretive and under-wraps and no one really knows what’s going on,” he said.

Tony Gibson is now facing two charges under the Health and Safety Act in relation to last year’s fatal accident. The Ports of Auckland has also been charged.

They are scheduled to appear before the courts next month.

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