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The Fair Work Ombudsman is making surprise inspections of ‘cheap eats’ food outlets in inner south Melbourne this week to check workers are getting the right pay and entitlements.

About 50 businesses face investigations across suburbs including Albert Park, Balaclava, Brighton, Elwood, Port Melbourne, Prahran, South Yarra, St Kilda and Windsor. Fair Work Inspectors are speaking with business owners, managers and employees on the ground, and requesting records.

The regulator is acting after receiving intelligence from a range of sources, including anonymous reports, indicating potential underpayments of employees in the area.

Businesses were targeted for investigation based on indicators of non-compliance, such as tip-offs to the FWO, or if they employed vulnerable workers such as visa holders and students.

Inspectors are on alert for unlawfully low flat rates, unpaid hours of work, unpaid penalty rates, late payments, false or inaccurate records and failures to provide pay slips, among other breaches.

The audits are part of a national program that has previously targeted eateries in Melbourne’s Degraves Street and Hardware Lane; Brisbane’s West End, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, Hobart, Darwin, the Gold Coast, Launceston and most recently Brisbane again.

A company can face a court-ordered penalty of up to $33,300 for a Compliance Notice breach and up to $66,600 for a record-keeping breach. Individuals can be penalised up to $6,660 for a Compliance Notice breach and up to $13,320 for a record-keeping breach.

Fast food, restaurant and café matters accounted for 36 per cent of the Fair Work Ombudsman’s new litigations in 2020-21. The FWO secured court-ordered penalties of $1,841,347 from litigation decisions in this sector. Visa holder workers were involved in 32 per cent of all litigations that year.