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Slavery trial: Defendant beat worker with firewood, court hears

Joseph Auga Matamata.
Source: RNZ Pacific

Napier, NEW ZEALAND — A Samoan man the Crown says was trafficked to New Zealand and used as a slave says he was put to work within hours getting off the plane and was constantly beaten for working too slowly.

He is one of 13 complainants to give evidence at the trial of Joseph Auga Matamata, 65, at the High Court in Napier. He denies 24 charges of human trafficking and slavery between 1994 and 2017.

The man, who arrived in New Zealand in July 2015 aged 53, described being recruited by Matamata in Samoa after making enquiries with his son about working in New Zealand.

He met Matamata, who at the time he only knew as "Old Man", for dinner near his village where it was explained he would pay for his visa and travel costs in return for taking a chunk of his wages once in New Zealand

He did not know what kind of work he would be doing in New Zealand other than he had to be "strong and fit" and he was told he would have to stay for one to two years to make it worthwhile, the man told the court through an interpreter.

He denied knowing he only had a three month working visa when he arrived or knowing he had a return ticket to Samoa in October.

Upon arriving at Auckland Airport at 1:20am on July 30, 2015, he was met by Joseph Matmata and his wife. They immediately drove to Hastings, arriving at Matamata's home at around 7:30am.

He changed and then they all drove to a vineyard where he and another worker had "training" in how to prune vines, he said.

They worked all day but he was "happy", he said.

"I was quite pleased I had a job and was getting some money.".

But despite working six or seven days a week for 17 months in orchards or vineyards, he did not receive any of his wages, he said.

Every three or four months Matmata would give him money to buy cigarettes and at his first Christmas in New Zealand he received $150. His second Christmas he got $100, he told the court.

He was often beaten up for being too slow or making mistakes in the fields or with his chores at home, he said.

As punishment he would have to "offer my head" to Matamata, which he would then hit with tools or firewood.

Once Matamata beat him with a piece of firewood because he'd thrown away two uneaten eggs after breakfast, he told the court.

"He asked me to go get him a piece of timber. I came to him and he said 'give me your head', so I gave him my head and he hit me with the timber.

"I felt so pain... he hit me once and then again. I said 'Auga please, Auga please'... I was crying and he said 'don't cry, don't cry."

Another time he was hit with a pair of secuatuers while working in a vineyard, he said.

"He said to me 'give me your head' and he punched me with the tool and blood came out of my head. It happened often."

He finally told some New Zealand-based Samoan workers he met while working in an orchard about his troubles with Matamata, asking them to go the police.

They did and his house was raided in 2017.

"The police cars drove in and Auga called me to run away," he told the court.

Instead he hid in the garage where he said he was "so happy" when police officers later found him there.

The man, now aged 57, had been living in New Zealand for three years.

Under cross examination by defence lawyer Roger Philip he said he had been offered a work visa in New Zealand by Immigration officials in exchange for giving evidence at the trial.

Philip questioned why the man didn't run away when Matamata and his wife went on one of their regular lengthy trips to Samoa

"It was in my mind but I was patient and I was thinking of a proper time to go," he said.

Roger Philip also questioned whether it was really Matamata that assaulted him.

"The defendant will say he never struck you on the head with firewood. Who is correct? You or him," Philip asked the man.

"I'm correct," the man replied.

The man admitted he was given a work visa by Immigration New Zealand in exchange for giving evidence in the trial.

More complainants will give their evidence next week, with Joseph Matamata expected to also give evidence at the end of the week.