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Top M.C.I.L. official wants crash survivors home

The woman responsible for seasonal workers, from the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour wants the survivors of a horror crash in New Zealand, to come home and be with their loved ones. 

Assistant Chief Executive Officer, Lemalu Nele Leilua, told the Samoa Observer on Monday that she imagines the nine victims of the crash, and the men in the two vans travelling with them, will be emotionally scarred from the ordeal.

Last Monday, three vans of seasonal workers were travelling from Napier to Taupo on a holiday when a truck collided with one van as the group turned into a rest stop on State Highway 5.

One of the workers, 37-year-old Va’a Tino Tagiilima died at the scene, which was filmed and streamed to social media as emergency responders arrived to the crash site.

He was sitting in the front passenger seat, next to the 19-year-old kiwi driver who is in critical condition. 

One of the holidaying workers was Daniel Nafoitoa Ulale. His van had already pulled into the highway stop café when he and the others heard a crash, Mr. Ulale told the New Zealand Herald last week.

“We just heard someone say [he] had died. Just shocked. He was a family man - he was gentle and respectful, the bro was.”

The group are working for Thornhill Horticultural Contracting, which had organised the holiday for the workers after an extended season due to travel restrictions stopping the men getting home on schedule.

Lemalu said Thornhill has been looking after their workers well, and that the company has already said it will be helping get Va’a’s body back to Samoa. 

She understands they are providing counselling to the nine workers who were in the van, and is not sure what has happened to the other two van’s passengers.

“I think most of them are mentally affected by what has happened,” she said. “I think most of them want to come home.

“I think at this point I would say I want them to come back and see their families. There is that feeling that they will always be haunted by what has happened, and they will still think about it.

“I don’t think they will be motivated to work again, unless they are given counselling in New Zealand at this time. But I would prefer for them to come back and be with their loved ones.”

Lemalu said Thornhills employment insurance cover for the workers will be covering all the post-crash needs, until the group eventually finish their contracts and come home. 

Meanwhile she is waiting for the New Zealand based liaison officer for M.C.I.L. to brief Lemalu and the team on how the survivors and their colleagues are coping with the aftermath of the crash.

Va’a is the fourth Samoan seasonal worker to die in a car crash since August. 

In August, Samoan seasonal worker Selesele Vaetasi Mati Asiata died in a crash on State Highway 2 in the Bay of Plenty, just five days before his flight home to Samoa. He was 36.

A man was charged with careless driving in the incident.

And in September, two seasonal workers Sua Ken Lafo and Asoone Ropeti, both aged 33, died in a head-on collision in Perth. 

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