14 Sep 2016

'Powerless' Fijian workers exploited, Crown says

9:43 am on 14 September 2016

An Auckland court has been told a group of Fijian workers who came to New Zealand for a better life were exploited, paying exorbitant fees to work here in return for visitor visas.

Entrance to the High Court in Auckland

The High Court in Auckland Photo: justice.govt.nz

Crown prosecutor Luke Clancy told a jury in the High Court in Auckland that Faroz Ali took advantage of the 16 Fijian workers, who worked illegally on visitor visas and received only a fraction of their promised wages.

Mr Ali has admitted eight charges of helping people breach visa conditions and 18 charges of not paying the workers minimum wage but denies 31 additional charges of human trafficking.

Mr Clancy said the workers were drawn in by Mr Ali's advertisements in local papers promising high wages, accommodation and food but when they arrived in New Zealand with only a visitor's visa, he delivered anything but.

"Mr Ali benefited to the tune of at least $100,000, probably more, from failing to pay those workers their statutory entitlements - workers he referred to in text messages as 'his boys'. He was able to exploit 'his boys' precisely because they were illegal and powerless," Mr Clancy said.

As well as having the men work on orchards in the Bay of Plenty, Mr Ali also employed them directly in his Gib stopping business.

Some of the workers borrowed money to pay filing and administrative fees and at least one left the country still owing money.

When one of the workers challenged Mr Ali about his broken promises, Mr Ali threatened to go to the police and have the man deported, the jury was told.

Mr Clancy said Mr Ali's wife, Geeta, and her sister, Sanjana, were also in on the scheme.

"I suggest it really boils down to this one issue: Was Mr Ali a knowing participant in this scam to mislead Fijian workers, to bring them into New Zealand to be exploited or was he blissfully unaware of what Geeta and Sanjena were up to?"

Mr Clancy said Mr Ali picked up the workers from the airport, travelled to the Tauranga orchards and organised the jobs.

Accused not aware of false promises - lawyer

Mr Ali's lawyer, Peter Broad, denied this, and said his client was not aware of the false promises being made to the workers.

"Mr Ali, I would suggest, believed that workers would come to New Zealand, irrespective of the misrepresentations, primarily because of the better money that can be made in New Zealand."

He said many of the workers returned and others renewed their visitor visas while in New Zealand and continued working.

"You can't exclude the reasonable possibility that what he was doing was simply exploiting the workers in New Zealand, using the labour force that was supplied by Fiji - by Geeta and/or Sanjana - for his own ends in New Zealand.

"He wasn't involved with any agreement and he didn't know because he didn't really care what they were being told in Fiji."

Justice Heath is due to sum up the case tomorrow before the jury retires to consider their verdicts.