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Alleged trafficker's victim tells of shame

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 23/08/2016

A woman allegedly trafficked into New Zealand paid thousands of dollars to get a decent job. Instead, she returned to Fiji ashamed and penniless after being paid almost nothing for weeks of work in an orchard, a court has heard.

Prosecutors say Faroz Ali, 46, lured 15 Fijian workers to New Zealand with ads promising good pay and charged them thousands in fees, only to exploit them for cheap labour at Bay of Plenty orchards between 2013 and 2015.

Ali is standing trial at the High Court in Auckland facing 15 charges of people trafficking and 16 others for helping people illegally get into, or stay in, the country.

One of the workers, Suliana Vetanivula, a 49-year-old mother of seven, on Tuesday told the court she responded to an ad from a company run by Ali's wife in Fiji and was told she had to pay about FJ$3000 for them to organise her visa and job.

Told she could make $17 an hour working in New Zealand, Ms Vetanivula borrowed the money from family and friends in July, 2014 .

When she returned to Fiji at the end of August, she had only been paid a total of about $50 for more than a month of work, she said.

When Ms Vetanivula arrived at a kiwi-fruit orchard in, Pyes Pa, Tauranga with three other workers - all on visitors' visas - they realised they would be sleeping on the floor of a garage, she said.

"We all slept together in one room. There was no beddings. Nothing was provided."

The group shared the space with four Indian men - who lent them a mattress on the first night, she said.

Despite pruning fruit eight hours a day for 14 days straight, Ms Vetanivula said they were never given any cash by a colleague of Ali's in Tauranga.

"We asked him for our pay and he took out a notebook ... upon calculations, he said we still owed him after deduction for our rent and fuel for the van," she said.

After another week he had given them $100 so they could buy themselves food and later another $50 - all split between the group.

Ms Vetanivula only had FJ$300 in her pocket when she flew back - money she borrowed from a friend.

She paused and began to cry as she described the humiliation of still not being able to repay her debts two years later.

"When I go out I feel ashamed to see them ... When I needed help they helped me. And in return I didn't do my part," she said.

She felt people thought she had "stolen" their money, because others that left to work in New Zealand came back with cash to help their families, she said.

On Monday, Ali pleaded guilty to 18 charges of not paying illegal workers the minimum wage or holiday pay along with eight other charges of helping people breach their visa conditions.

The defence says he didn't know what the workers were promised in Fiji and only got involved once they arrived in New Zealand.

About 10 translators have been requested for the six-week trial.

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