A Tauranga mechanic with 30 years’ experience is having to sell his possessions to maintain his business, after what he calls “bullying” methods by Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency certification officers.
The mechanic, who for legal reasons asked to remain anonymous, had his Warrant of Fitness accreditation revoked earlier this year.
It came amid further concerns from some Motor Trade Association members in the Waikato Bay of Plenty region regarding the conduct of Waka Kotahi inspection officers.
The mechanic in question claims inspection officers arrived at his business premises earlier this year for a standard unannounced inspection.
In previous inspections, he claims one officer would arrive but on this occasion four were present and used tactics he described as “intimidating”.
He alleges one bombarded him with questions and accusations of foul play, another stared at him intently throughout, whilst a third walked around the garage in sunglasses for the duration of the inspection.
The presence of four officers and the manner in which they conducted their inspection “intimidated him until he couldn’t carry out his job properly under such stress”.
Despite no previous mental health issues, the experience led him to suffer a panic attack and he was subsequently labelled non-compliant.
“The process they used was very intimidating and put me and my staff under a great deal of stress,” he says.
“So much so that I suffered a serious panic attack and was not able to concentrate on what I needed to achieve in order to pass.”
The stress and anxiety involved left him ill for a month, with daily anxiety attacks.
“I’ve never had anxiety before,” he admits. “I’ve heard of it and always said ‘oh harden up’ but when it gets you nothing can stop it.
“I’m a bit of an old hard bastard but this rocked me.”
Waka Kotahi confirms that over the past two years they have increased focus on regular reviews of inspection organisations and vehicle inspectors.
Across the Central North Island region, which encompasses Waikato and the Bay of Plenty, Waka Kotahi has revoked the appointments of 14 inspection organisations and 18 vehicle inspectors in the past 12 months, from April 2020.
“The level of non-compliance and the regulated party’s approach to the results of the review form part of our response,” says a Waka Kotahi spokesperson.
“Ideally, vehicle inspectors and inspection organisations are willing to be guided and educated towards compliance in a firm and fair way.
“But, if necessary, stronger action such as imposing conditions, a suspension, or revoking the regulated party’s appointment may be taken in the interests of road safety.”
However, the mechanic in question claims he was prepared to make necessary changes to fall in line with the corrective action but was never afforded the opportunity to do so.
“At the end of the four hour audit we were deemed to be non-compliant,” he suggests.
“We were given a report that showed us where we needed to improve and it set out what corrective action we would have to follow to become compliant again.”
He asserts that all corrective action was undertaken.
However, when visited a month later to see if he had implemented the relevant corrective action, he claims the inspectors immediately enforced a suspension of his garage’s WOF authority and labelled them a risk to public safety.
Following the suspension, Waka Kotahi subsequently sent out letters to all clients on the garage’s database who had previously had WOF inspections carried out on site.
The letter states that “due to safety concerns in their work” two vehicle inspectors at the garage have been stripped of their WOF inspection accreditation. Waka Kotahi states in the letter that they “strongly recommend” a vehicle re-inspection prior to current expiry date, although the current WOF remains valid.
The mechanic in question suggests many long-term customers contacted him in shock, with the majority offering their support, upon receiving this letter given their many years of service.
“This letter has crashed my business overnight,” he says. “It has been a ruining.”
The MTA confirms that some members in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty have been in contact, highlighting concerns about WOF audits being carried out in the region by Waka Kotahi inspectors.
However, they believe constructive discussions have been held and improvements will now be made.
“MTA raised those concerns with Waka Kotahi,” says a MTA spokesperson.
“Along with some of our members we have since had several constructive meetings with the Safer Vehicles team at Waka Kotahi to work through the issues.
“I am now confident that the issues have been identified and will be addressed by Waka Kotahi over the coming weeks, meaning that the audit and review process will provide the appropriate outcome, based on a constructive, collaborative approach.”
They add that they are greatly appreciative of Waka Kotahi’s approach to this dialogue.
Waka Kotahi clarify that the onsite review process is not set to undergo any changes but they are always open to feedback which could, eventually, lead to refinements.
“We have regular dialogue with all industry organisations and take their feedback on board as part of our ongoing monitoring of the review process,” explains a Waka Kotahi spokesperson.
“The review process for inspection officers and vehicle inspectors is closely monitored to ensure a consistent nationwide approach, across all in-service providers.”
However, the mechanic in question has asserted his belief that Waka Kotahi had a predetermined outcome ahead of their inspection of his garage. He protests that the report handed in did not accurately represent the inspection undertaken.
“The report written by the certification officers did not line up with what took place on the day of the audit,” he alleges.
“Many false statements were fabricated to make us look really bad.”
He also suggests he is not alone, with several other garages across the Waikato and Bay of Plenty targeted by what he calls a “bullying” inspection team.
In one claim, the source suggests another mechanic in Tauranga fell foul to the same certification officers shortly before he did.
However, he suggests video footage of the inspection filmed inside the garage did not align with the report’s findings and they were swiftly re-granted their WOF authority.
“Another workshop in Tauranga was also audited and subsequently suspended in the same way we were,” he claims.
“The reports were again fabricated in a way to paint a picture to Waka Kotahi management that they were bad at carrying out WOF inspections.
“The MTA got hold of this footage and sent it through to the Waka Kotahi questioning the credibility of the certification officer’s reports.
“Once Waka Kotahi viewed this footage the suspension notice was immediately lifted and without any corrective action they were told to carry on as normal.”
Waka Kotahi confirms they did overturn a decision related to a Tauranga-based garage following an MTA appeal earlier this year.
“Following a standard review of a Tauranga-based inspection officer earlier this year, the organisation’s appointment to issue WOFs was immediately suspended,” says a Waka Kotahi spokesperson.
“Upon receiving further information and considering improvements that had been made, Waka Kotahi reviewed the decision and withdrew the suspension of the inspection officer’s appointment.”
The anonymous mechanic who spoke to SunLive states that he has not been as fortunate and that his garage remains suspended, with himself and several workers now threatened with unemployment.
The audit has now been sent for an independent review but if that fails further legal proceedings are likely, he says.
Until then he has been left to sell some of his prized possessions, including classic cars, in order to keep his staff employed.
He says his garage has always held in high regard the standard of their WOF testing and is supportive of the need to remove accreditation from “dodgy” garages.
A fatal crash in Dargaville in January 2018 was attributed to an incorrectly warranted vehicle. At the time, Waka Kotahi accepted a portion of the blame for what they called “totally unacceptable” circumstances and that “major change” was incoming to provide a “tougher enforcement approach to regulatory compliance”.
However, the mechanic in question believes the tougher enforcement has now gone too far leaving skilled and experienced mechanics as collateral damage.
“They are stepping over the line with their bullying and intimidating tactics,” he states.
“This is mine and my staff’s livelihood. All these workshops across the Bay are getting squashed.
“It is not just me. It is overwhelming what they have done.”