'Bullying' pushed worker to edge

PAUL BIBBY
Last updated 05:00 04/12/2013

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A painter from the Bathurst train manufacturing plant where a New Zealand apprentice was allegedly subjected to months of relentless bullying before his death has spoken of being so badly bullied himself he "wanted to jump off a bridge".

Jason Gallagher told Glebe Coroner's Court on Tuesday that verbal abuse, practical jokes and smoking cannabis during breaks had been commonplace at the Bathurst premises of manufacturer Downer EDI until 2008.

But he said when bullying or abusive behaviour was reported to senior management, they would not believe those who came forward or fail to take effective action.

The revelations came during the inquest into the death of Alec Meikle, an apprentice at Downer EDI who was found dead in New Zealand in October 2008 after three months of alleged bullying.

He had left the firm and returned to New Zealand after his parents arranged for him to live with his aunt and uncle and have further treatment for anxiety and depression.

A New Zealand coroner is also inquiring into his death.

The 17 year-old was allegedly burnt with a welding torch, sprayed with adhesive spray, and set on fire while at the firm.

A number of his colleagues also allegedly threatened to anally rape him with a steel dildo.

Accompanying these incidents, the inquest heard, was near constant verbal abuse.

On Tuesday Gallagher, who has worked as a painter at the plant for eight years, told the inquest that his former supervisor, Glen Barney, subjected him to bullying virtually on a daily basis.

"It nearly drove me over me edge, I didn't know what to do with myself," Gallagher, who stills works at the plant, said.

"He'd just crack it - he'd go off. He'd kick throw cans and bottles at me, throw 20-litre tins at me, tell me my prep work wasn't good enough, wouldn't let me paint the whole side of the loco like I was being paid to do.

"I just felt useless."

Gallagher said he reported the alleged bullying to the plant's senior manager, Greg Smith, but it "only made things worse".

"If you had a way to save a guy $50,000 he'd listen, but if you said 'this bloke gave me a hard time and he's one of your supervisors' he wouldn't believe you.

"I just thought, I'm going to jump off a bridge, I can't hack it any more."

Gallagher also told the inquest that practical jokes were commonplace at the plant, recalling that workers would regularly "light up" canisters by filling them with cetalyne and setting them alight.

One worker was presented with a steel g-string.

He would also regularly see staff smoking cannabis during breaks.

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"The Bathurst plant was so far behind the other plants it wasn't funny," he said.

 

Where can I get support and help?

Below is a list of some of the services available which offer support, information and help. All services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week unless otherwise specified.

Lifeline - 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland

Depression Helpline (8 am to 12 midnight) - 0800 111 757

Healthline - 0800 611 116

Kidsline (aimed at children up to 14 years of age; 4 pm to 6 pm weekdays) - 0800 54 37 54 (0800 kidsline)

Samaritans - 0800 726 666 (for callers from the Lower North Island, Christchurch and West Coast) or 0800 211 211 / (04) 473 9739 (for callers from all other regions)

Suicide Crisis Helpline (aimed at those in distress, or those who are concerned about the wellbeing of someone else; 12 noon to 12 midnight) - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

Youthline - 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email talk@youthline.co.nz

Suicide Prevention Information New Zealand  - www.spinz.co.nz

What's Up (for 5-18 year olds; 1 pm to 11 pm) - 0800 942 8787 

www.depression.org.nz

www.thelowdown.co.nz - visit the website, email team@thelowdown.co.nz or free text 5626 (emails and text messages will be responded to between 12 noon and 12 midnight).

- Sydney Morning Herald

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