'I gave you my son and you returned him broken'
The mother of a teenage apprentice who died in New Zealand after being allegedly bullied at work says she gave his employer her son, and they returned him broken.
After enduring a nine-day inquest in Sydney into his death, Alec Meikle's mother Andrea told reporters her son had been treated appallingly at train manufacturer Downer EDI.
''We gave Downer EDI our son. Five months later, they returned him broken,'' she said.
Alec, 17, died at his aunt's home in New Zealand in October 2008 after allegedly suffering months of abuse from senior colleagues while employed at Downer EDI's Bathurst plant in New South Wale's central west.
There the young apprentice was called a ''useless f***ing c***'' daily, burnt with a welding torch and had his mistakes publicly recorded on a chart that threatened anal rape by a steel pole if he notched up a certain count, the inquest has heard.
Andrea said the family felt they had a moral obligation to tell Alec's story.
''Every person ... must have the right to go to work and return unharmed."
She said Alec had been singled out by older staff, and that the workplace had facilitated his abuse.
Voice wavering momentarily, Andrea said her life, and those of Alec's father and siblings, would be incomplete without him.
State laws should be passed to criminalise bullying in the workplace, the Meikle family's lawyer Bill Walsh told the inquest.
He cited Victoria's Brodie's Law, introduced in 2011 after 19-year-old waitress Brodie Panlock took her own life after being relentlessly bullied by her colleagues.
Companies should also assign 'apprentice masters' to guide young trainees, and an independent body be established to oversee how apprenticeships were being conducted, he said.
While well-intentioned, such changes could exceed the ''economic realities of life'' for some businesses, Downer EDI lawyer G.J. Hatcher said.
He said the inquest needed to conclusively establish Alec's treatment at Downer EDI was the cause of death, and not just a contributing factor.
While noting lack of supervision as a critical issue, Ross Hudson, the lawyer representing the alleged bullies, said it was also hard to say if Alec already had depressive symptoms before starting at Downer.
He said Alec had told a psychiatrist he'd been bullied for five years just weeks before taking his life, and, as such, it was possible his mental health was fragile before he started his five-month apprenticeship.
''You can't just say, 'that's the cause, that's the reason','' he told the court.
''And unfortunately that's the kind of case we (have) here.''
Deputy state coroner Paul MacMahon will return his findings at a later date.
The case is also being investigated by a New Zealand coroner as the death occurred in New Zealand.
Alec's parents arranged for him to return to New Zealand - where the family had migrated from in 2002 - to live with his aunt and uncle and have further treatment.
On the night of October 30, 2008, Alec's aunt and cousin arrived home to find him dead.
The inquest continues.
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