KiwiRail boss Greg Miller quits amid culture complaints

Kristin Hall
Source: 1News

Current and former KiwiRail employees say they’re relieved chief executive Greg Miller has resigned.

Miller has stepped down with immediate effect after 1 News and other media reported concerns about the leadership culture led by Miller and other senior employees, including allegations of bullying, sexism and disrespectful behaviour.

The KiwiRail Board's hired an independent interviewer to look into the departures of about 20 former staff under Miller's leadership, but the process isn’t yet finished.

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.

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

The Board’s acting chair Sue McCormack says Miller denies allegations about his conduct.

“He felt it was pressure on him and his family and he also felt it was a distraction for KiwiRail as an organisation, and for that reason he decided to step down so we could focus on the work that is in front of us.”

Current and former KiwiRail employees say they’re relieved at the move, but there’s a lot of work still to do.

“I feel a mixture of relief, sadness and concern,” one former senior staffer says.

“Relief that there is now an opportunity for a significant leadership culture shift, but also sadness that it took a resignation to occur for this to be a possibility. My concern is now for the future, and whether the Board, and in time the next CEO, will have the necessary courage and fortitude to drive the level of change needed across the organisation, to make KiwiRail feel like a safe and inclusive place to work.”

A current worker says staff will need “some time to empower ourselves again”.

“There is no joy to be had from the departure of Greg Miller, only a sense of relief that his time has finished,” he said.

Despite the departures, McCormack says the Board only became aware of concerns about Miller’s leadership when they were raised in the media.

“I think you have to appreciate there’s 4,500 employees and that we have a board meeting once a month and with Covid going on we have been doing Zoom meetings,” she said.

“That doesn’t mean to say for one minute that we don’t take our obligations as a good employer seriously. It’s just that no one has approached the Board to give us a heads up on anything and it’s hard to have your eyes everywhere”

“If we have lessons to learn about how we could hear better from our team, we will take that on board.”

She says she’s concerned about the number of women who’ve left the organisation.

“I find it very concerning., I believe in diversity and every woman should feel safe in our workplace.

“We don’t get monthly updates as to who's leaving … maybe that’s something we will learn from and ask for in the future.”

The Board is set to receive the findings of independent interviewer Kevin McMahon in the coming weeks, but one former staffer who shared their story says they’re disappointed they won’t be receiving a summary of findings.

“We have collectively contributed information for the board Board to act [on] and I think that is a reasonable request.”

Another says, “with Miller stepping away I wonder if the stories currently being investigated will ever come to light or if the Board will shy away from reporting fully”

In a statement a KiwiRail spokesperson said the findings will only be made available to the Board.

“The interview process is confidential, and the interviewer’s report will be anonymised and made available only to the Board. Participants were advised in a letter inviting them to interviews that the report would be disclosed only to the Board.”

SOE minister under fire

Minister for State Owned Enterprises David Clark has come under fire for not intervening sooner. Clark has repeatedly told media he has “high expectations” of KiwiRail, but said he couldn’t recall when concerns about Miller’s leadership were first raised with him.

National’s SOE spokesperson Mark Mitchell says the minister has been “missing in action” and should have helped oversee the replacement of the board chair after former chair Brian Corban died in May this year.

“The SOE minister should take up a career as a professional mountain biker rather than a cabinet minister because he has completely and totally failed in his role,” Mitchell says.

“The first thing the minister has to do is appoint a chair, and appoint a chair who can get in there and get KiwiRail pointing in the right direction again.”

Mitchell says it’s concerning the Board wasn’t aware of discontent at KiwiRail until media broke the news.

“That highlights the real issues they’ve got because I took over the SOEs portfolio 18 months ago because I wanted to have a closer look at KiwiRail and I was aware there was [sic] issues inside KiwiRail then.”

Strike action planned

The turmoil comes as a nationwide rail worker strike is planned for mid-December. If it goes ahead it’ll be the first strike of its kind since 1994.

Rail and Maritime Transport Union members have voted overwhelmingly to strike on December 16th and 17th.

RMTU general secretary Wayne Butson says a breakdown in relations with KiwiRail is a factor in the strike action and he’s welcoming Miller’s resignation.

“I think it’s good… it means KiwiRail and its workforce and management team can focus on delivering goals that KiwiRail’s been given by this government to meet the needs of New Zealanders.”

The strike would affect the national rail network, freight and the Interislander ferry service in the lead-up to Christmas. Butson says the strike could still be called off if an agreement over pay is reached.

“We have mediation with KiwiRail on Monday. I would hope that there may be some change in KiwiRail’s position.”

“The fact it’s 30 years since the last time we went on strike with the national rail freight operator indicates we do not do knee-jerk industrial action.”

Butson says he’s looking forward to working with KiwiRail’s deputy chief executive Todd Moyle, who will step in as chief executive until he leaves in the New Year. KiwiRail says it will “immediately” begin the search for a permanent replacement.

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