Farm workers have been underpaid in Bundaberg.
Farm workers have been underpaid in Bundaberg. Alter_photo

Company faces a shutdown after rorting workers

A SUNSHINE Coast businessman fined almost $230,000 for the "appalling" exploitation of foreign workers in Bundaberg may have his company shut down by the Federal Government.

Emmanuel Bani and his company, Maroochy Sunshine, were fined in March last year after the Federal Circuit Court found workers from Vanuatu had been lured to Australia and then deprived of basic living standards in what Judge Michael Jarrett described as "appalling treatment" of the 22 workers.

The workers were chosen to pick fruit and vegetables at farms throughout Bundaberg, the Sunshine Coast and the Lockyer Valley.

Workers were required to fund their own 416 business visas, airfares, medical and police checks, with many taking out loans in their native country to secure the work.

Judge Jarrett said most of the promises made to workers were false, with 13 of the 22 workers not paid at all, while the others were given individual cash payments of between $50 and $300. Bani was meant to provide each worker with at least 30 hours of work a week and weekly wages of more than $500 under the terms of the government program and his agreement with the employees.

The Fair Work Ombudsman took action against Bani and he was fined personally $41,300 on top of the $186,000 fine imposed on Maroochy Sunshine for underpaying the workers a total of $77,649 over a seven-week period.

In evidence tendered in the Federal Court, an employee had described working for Bani as like "slavery times" and recalled working a full day without even a cup of tea and being fed only tomatoes.

The Fair Work Ombudsman, for the Commonwealth Government, is seeking to shut down the company, with a hearing on February 16.