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The Fair Work Ombudsman has recovered $393,453 in wages for 479 underpaid workers after investigating employers in Darwin food precincts.

Fair Work Inspectors targeted 48 businesses across 22 suburbs, including Darwin City, Casuarina and Palmerston City. In concluded investigations, 76 per cent of businesses were non-compliant.

Businesses were selected for surprise inspections based on their risk of breaching workplace laws. At-risk businesses had a history of non-compliance with the FWO, had been the subject of anonymous tip-offs, or employed vulnerable visa holders. Visa holders were found at two-thirds of businesses.

Of the 34 businesses found to be in breach, 31 had underpaid their workers and 10 had failed to meet pay slip and record-keeping requirements.

The audits are part of a national program that has targeted food precincts in Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, the Gold Coast, Perth, Adelaide, Hobart and Launceston.

The most common breaches found were the failure to pay penalty rates or casual loading (28 businesses), followed by underpayment of the minimum hourly rate of pay (13 businesses) and the failure to pay correct overtime allowances (13 businesses).

In total, Darwin businesses back-paid 479 employees, with the largest recovery being $94,687 from one business for 15 casual and part-time employees who had been underpaid their minimum wages and weekend penalties.

In response to the breaches, the FWO issued a Compliance Notice each to 32 businesses, recovering $390,177 for 465 workers. There were 10 Infringement Notices issued for pay slip and record-keeping breaches, resulting in $12,792 in fines paid. Three businesses remain under investigation.

Non-compliant businesses were told that any future breaches may lead to higher-level enforcement action by the Fair Work Ombudsman.