Vineyard manager worried about PNG workers’ pay, jury hears

PHOTO: PINA

Pay and visa details that weren’t adding up got a vineyard manager worried about a group of Papua New Guinea workers.

The Hawke’s Bay vineyard thought it was getting Recognised Seasonal Employer workers from a labour contractor, a jury heard, but the workers were actually on visitor visas.

The people who brought the group over and lined up their work are now on trial in Hamilton District Court over an alleged rort involving 16 workers.

Martha Fretton, whose company contracted workers out, has pleaded not guilty to 12 charges of aiding people to breach their visa conditions.

Waikato couple Antony Swarbrick and Christina Kewa-Swarbrick have pleaded not guilty to 99 charges of aiding and abetting people to unlawfully enter New Zealand, aiding them to breach their visa conditions, and giving false information to immigration in 2016.

On Wednesday, the manager of a Hawke’s Bay vineyard – both he and the vineyard have name suppression – told the court the work and payment of the Papua New Guinea workers went too smoothly.

The workers were paid by various rates – sometimes by the number of vines cut, and other times at an hourly rate.

He’d expected to be asked for money to top up the workers’ pay to ensure they earned minimum wage, he told Crown prosecutor Kaleb Whyte.

“I was concerned about their minimum wage and was starting to ask more questions about where they had come from.”

He had worked with Fretton for years, and she would invoice the company for the agreed amount of work done, with extra charged for her contracting company’s services.

The man said he queried the workers’ pay multiple times and Fretton said it was “[Global] 4040’s problem” and told him not to worry.

“I remember that clearly,” he said.

Global 4040 was set up by Christina Kewa-Swarbrick and Antony Swarbrick.

The man said he kept worrying, and started to become concerned things weren’t adding up.

He understood it was the contracting company’s obligation to understand the law and how to employ people legally, with regard to visas and immigration, he told Whyte.

Fretton had told him the workers were Recognised Seasonal Workers with the Global 4040 company he said.

Asked by Fretton’s lawyer Gavin Boot, he said he thought it was a forestry company, based on a brief conversation with Fretton.

He had not seen or asked to see the workers’ passports, he said. The trial continues before Judge Robert Spear.

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