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The Fair Work Ombudsman has recovered $1,212,727 in unpaid wages for 1351 workers in the fast food, restaurant, café and retail sectors.

Between December 2018 and March 2020, Fair Work Inspectors targeted popular food precincts in Melbourne and Brisbane, as well as revisiting food and retail businesses around the country that had previously breached workplace laws.

The Fair Work Ombudsman conducted a series of intelligence-led proactive investigations targeting these high-risk sectors, which commonly rely on potentially vulnerable young workers such as university students.

Inspectors investigated 49 fast food, café and restaurant businesses in Melbourne’s Degraves Street and Hardware Lane. In Brisbane’s West End, inspectors investigated a total of 44 businesses.

Food precinct businesses were selected because the Fair Work Ombudsman’s intelligence, including anonymous reports, suggested breaches of workplace laws.

The audits found that 84 per cent of businesses investigated in the Melbourne laneways food precincts and 88 per cent of those investigated in Brisbane’s West End were not compliant with Australia’s workplace laws.

In total, the regulator recovered $194,365 for 186 Melbourne laneways workers and $309,073 for 369 Brisbane West End workers. Total underpayments per business ranged from $30 to $59,680 in Melbourne and $377 to $65,215 in Brisbane.

The Fair Work Ombudsman’s national food and retail investigations also assessed another 171 businesses, finding a 71 per cent non-compliance rate, with inspectors recovering $709,289 for 796 workers. These workers were engaged in roles such as chefs, cooks, waiters and retail assistants.