Tongan based Australia fruit picking authorities in court over defamation claim

A Tongan fruit picking contractor in Australia was in court in Tonga last week in a legal fight to have his name cleared over allegations made by the Tonga Australia Seasonal Worker Association (TASWA).

Walter Fangatua has accused TASWA president Falepaini Prescott Maile, for making fabricated stories on Radio FM 87.5 and Facebook about his company and the way how he treated Tongan and Pacific Island fruit pickers in Australia.

Fangatua and his wife Melissa owned the Plant Grow Pick, an Emerald-based company which provided more that 100 seasonal workers to growers across Australia.

According to reports Maile told the court TASWA was set up to advise Tongan fruit pickers in Australia about the Seasonal Work Programme policies and acted as a mediator between workers and employers.

Maile admitted in court that she falsely announced on the Radio and Facebook the Australian Securities and Investments Commission had cancelled Plant Grow Pick’s license to operate as a fruit picking work contractor, Talaki Newspaper reported.

She said she got the information from a second party.

The court was told Walter allegedly mistreated his workers and sometimes swore at them in which Walter had denied, Kakalu ʻo Tonga reported

Maile was allowed by the Magistrate last week to return to Australia on condition she had to pay and sign a bail bond of TP$2,000.

In September 2016 Radio ABC reported that there were 2,179 Tongan workers in Australia on the Pacific Harvest Scheme’s seasonal worker programme.

The program allows these workers up to six months of work each year, it said.

There had been reports of claims of worker exploitation throughout Australia including one case of workers in northern Victoria earning less than $10 a week after deductions.

Moora Citrus orchard manager Shane Kay said it was “really sad to see” these cases appeared to be reality, the Radio reported.

There were also reports of Tongan workers abusing the opportunity while they were in Australia and also in New Zealand through the Recognised Seasonal Employer programme.

As Kaniva News reported, the Tongan government has established a task force to deal with New Zealand and Australian employers’ concerns over Tongan fruit pickers who have worked in their farms.

The task force duties included making sure only the reliable and trustworthy employees were picked for the programmes.

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