In a potential landmark case, the trial of a Fijian man charged with smuggling people into New Zealand and subjecting them to exploitative working conditions is under way.

Faroz Ali has today admitted helping workers breach their visa conditions and exploiting them, but denied the more serious charges of human trafficking.

Ali, also known as Feroz Ali, allegedly took large sums of money from 16 Fijian workers in exchange for the promise of jobs and then facilitated their unlawful entry into the country. Some of the alleged offending took place in the Bay of Plenty.

The 46-year-old stood in the dock at the High Court at Auckland today with his hands clasped in front of him as 15 human trafficking charges under the Crimes Act, and dozens of other charges laid under the Immigration Act, were read out against him.

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He pleaded guilty to 26 charges of aiding a person to breach their visa and exploiting an unlawful employee by failing to provide holiday pay and minimum wage.

But Ali pleaded not guilty to a further 15 charges of trafficking in people by means of deception and 16 counts of aiding and abetting a person to unlawfully enter New Zealand, or to stay in the country illegally.

The maximum penalty for people trafficking is 20 years' imprisonment and a $500,000 fine.

Last year, new legislation saw New Zealand's definition of trafficking fall into line with international law as a crime of exploitation rather than just the movement of a victim across borders.

No one has been convicted under the tougher trafficking law.

Human trafficking is defined as modern day slavery and includes the abduction, kidnapping, transporting or transferring of victims for the purposes of sale or exploitation, according to the New Zealand Law Society.

The trial continues this afternoon with Crown prosecutor Luke Clancy and defence lawyer Peter Broad expected to present their opening arguments to the jury.

The trial is expected to last several weeks.