Allegations of bullying and sexism at KiwiRail

Kristin Hall
Source: 1News

An independent interviewer has been hired to speak with recent departures at KiwiRail.

This comes as 1News has received claims of “archaic, sexist” and “bullying” behaviour by senior leaders.

1News has spoken to 16 current and former KiwiRail staff who are concerned about the leadership of Greg Miller, who was promoted from board chair to chief executive in May 2019.

In recent months Chief Operating Officer/Deputy Chief Executive Todd Moyle, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Usman Pervaiz and Head of HR Andrew Norton have resigned.

1News understands at least 11 senior women have left as well since Miller became executive. Just 18% of KiwiRail’s workforce is female.

One current staffer told said, “he’s combative, he’s dictatorial… women are leaving in droves. There are people on my team who have been resigning, people throughout the company just don't know what to do”.

Some former staff, particularly women, have spoken of a culture in which they have felt disrespected, left out of decision-making, and targeted if they choose to raise issues that went against the plans of senior leadership.

"The old boys club, females should be seen and not heard, they were there to improve the statistics and for image,” one ex-employee says.

Another former staffer says the decline in leadership culture “was marked once Greg chose to step into the CEO role”.

"Words such as - awful, bullying, archaic, offensive, sexist and unsafe - quickly became common place when women described some of their interactions with (senior leaders)."

One woman says discriminatory and misogynistic comments were directed at her and her female colleagues at work.

“I witnessed KiwiRail’s culture change to one of division, fear, distrust and general unease.”

KiwiRail has hired Kevin McMahon, an independent executive coach and leadership consultant to interview around 20 former senior managers who’ve left in the past two years.

In an email from KiwiRail’s Acting Chair Sue McCormack, former staff were told “there are many reasons why an individual may leave an organisation, particularly in times of change”.

“The purpose of the interviews will be to gather information that will help the Board understand why those who have recently departed or who are intending to do so decided to leave and whether the reasons for their departures provide insights or lessons that will assist the Board and Management to ensure that KiwiRail is a great place to work.”

There's also concern the company's safety standards have slipped, with some staff pointing to an incident in September where a shunter locomotive and railway wagon plunged into the Picton Harbour.

No one was injured in the incident, which is currently being investigated. KiwiRail says this is the only “uncontrolled movement” in the last 26 months – five years ago, they say they were averaging once per month.

“When you have people working around rail lines it's really, really important that you keep our people safe and I just don't have faith that Greg Miller or the executive team have safety front of mind,” a current staffer says.

Union members vote to strike

Today 94 per cent of Rail and Maritime Transport Union members voted to hold a nationwide strike for the first time in nearly 30 years, a move RMTU general secretary Wayne Butson says is partly due to a breakdown in relations with KiwiRail.

“There's deep-seated anger out there, the bargaining hasn't been going well, nor has the relationship between KiwiRail and the company.

“We’ve had a record number of managers that have actually left. Very good managers who have developed a lot of rapport with our delegates and members and have their respect. There’s this general culture coming from the top of the organisation down and it’s very corrosive.”

The union and KiwiRail will go into bargaining tomorrow, with a strike to go ahead if no agreement is reached. A date’s yet to be set, with a minimum of 14 days’ notice required, but any strike is likely to happen in early December, the lead-up to the busy Christmas period.

“If that strike action is given it’ll affect all of the rail system in New Zealand, and of course the ferries that are the iron bridge across the Cook Strait will be affected as well,” Butson says.

KiwiRail’s response

Greg Miller and KiwiRail’s Acting Board Chair Sue McCormack declined an interview but McCormack said the Board and Miller “fully support” the confidential ‘exit interview’ process and will not pre-judge its outcome.

“KiwiRail’s Board and management are focussed on providing a great place of work for all our people, and we take that obligation seriously … All members of the Board and Executive are personally committed to diversity and inclusion and enduring all employees feel safe, supported and valued in the workplace,” McCormack said in a statement.

“I reject any claim that the company has reduced its safety focus. Safety is an unrelenting drive within KiwiRail and we have invested $2 million in a new safety reporting system that captures more data, and more accurate data, than was previously measured or collated.”

She said high-risk safety incidents have decreased by 76% in the last financial year, compared to 2020.

On diversity, McCormack says the KiwiRail Board and Executive team want to increase the percentage of women in the workforce from 18% to 30% within the next 10 years.

“Women currently comprise 30 per cent of the Executive Team … Four out of the seven board members are women… Of the 420 people leaders, 102 are women (24%).”

She says KiwiRail doesn’t want to see a strike and will stay at the negotiating table until a settlement is achieved, calling on the union to do the same.

Do you know more about this story? Contact our reporter Kristin Hall in confidence on kristin.hall@tvnz.co.nz