The Fair Work Ombudsman has recovered $331,386 in wages for 725 underpaid workers after conducting surprise audits in Albury-Wodonga, Ballarat and Wollongong.
In total, 489 businesses were audited, including takeaway food outlets, cafés and restaurants, retail businesses, pubs and bars.
The surprise visits found that 47 per cent of the audited employers across the regions were not compliant with Australian workplace laws.
Wollongong had the worst compliance rate among the three audited regions at 38 per cent, with 59 per cent of businesses in Albury-Wodonga fully compliant with workplace laws and 54 per cent in Ballarat.
The most common breach identified was businesses not paying their staff correctly, either by underpaying the minimum hourly wage or not paying correct penalty rates.
Other breaches included businesses not providing staff with proper payslips and failing to comply with record-keeping requirements.
Fair Work Inspectors targeted regions based on the high population of university students and large number of anonymous reports received from local workers.
In response to the breaches, the FWO issued 35 cautions (Formal Cautions), 37 on-the-spot fines (Infringement Notices) and nine compliance notices. Wage back payments made by businesses ranged from $7.26 up to $40,434.69.
Also, 55 per cent of the total money recovered during the audits came from hospitality businesses, with 67 employers back-paying $181,557 to 573 employees.
“Like many workers in the hospitality industry, young workers in these regions were potentially vulnerable due to their age, visa status and reliance on local jobs to support themselves,” FWO Sandra Parker said.
“Australia’s minimum pay rates are not negotiable, and employers in the fast food, restaurant and café sector need to actively check that they are paying their staff correctly before we visit their business.
“We are committed to improving workplace compliance in the hospitality industry, and we have a range of free tools to help both employers and workers.”