Dozens of leading international brands including Rip Curl and Laura Ashley found themselves in the dock on Tuesday amid claims by Australian textile union chiefs they exploited scores of outworkers.

The Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia has filed complaints against 30 apparel companies amid allegations they failed to ensure at-home piece workers were given the appropriate wages and conditions.

Union chiefs claim the companies have broken the Federal Clothing Trades Award and are seeking the maximum penalty of US$5,500 fine per breach, which could see some of the accused fined up to US$83,000.

The action follows a series of inspections by union officials into the pay and conditions of outworkers for clothing firms that also include Dowd, Saba and Tuffa Workwear, which supplies uniforms to several Australian police forces.

Up to 50 outworkers demonstrated outside the federal court during the hearing calling for better wages and treatment.