Ombudsman can't find man accused of swindling fruit pickers

AUTHORITIES say they may not be able contact a man accused of ripping off foreign workers of more than $77,000.

Emmanuel Bani's hire company Maroochy Sunshine is accused of underpaying 22 workers from Vanuatu $77,649 for fruit and vegetable picking jobs in the Lockyer Valley, Sunshine Coast and Bundaberg regions.

Maroochy Sunshine was obliged to provide workers with 30 hours work a week and more than $500 each week in wages.

But the Fair Work Ombudsman alleges Mr Bani failed to pay 13 workers at all and paid the nine others only between $50 and $300.

Mr Bani recruited the workers under the 416 visa seasonal worker program that allows Pacific islanders and East Timorese to do short term work such as fruit picking.

The ombudsman alleged Mr Bani only provided "sporadic work" for the 22 workers - who have since returned to Vanuatu.

It also alleges Mr Bani underpaid their annual leave entitlements and breached payslip and frequency-of-pay laws.

Neither Mr Bani nor a representative appeared at the Brisbane Federal Circuit Court on Monday for a directions hearing.

The court heard the Fair Work Ombudsman had bee able to serve Mr Bani with legal documents for the current matters but there was doubts as to whether he could be served with documents in future as he had no fixed address.

Mr Bani faces penalties of up to $10,200 per contravention and Maroochy Sunshine faces penalties of up to $51,000 per contravention.

Judge Michael Jarrett ruled the case would be adjourned until March 1 and said it would continue whether Mr Bani engaged with the process or not.