The Fair Work Ombudsman has revealed nearly one in two businesses in Ballarat audited on surprise visits were found to be non-compliant with Australian workplace laws.
A total of 192 businesses were audited in Ballarat and 88 were non-compliant.
None of the businesses were named in the report.
Almost $74,000 in payment was recovered for 147 employees from 44 Ballarat businesses.
Fair Work Inspectors targeted businesses in Albury-Wodonga, Ballarat and Wollongong based on the high population of university students and the large number of anonymous reports received from local workers.
In total, 489 businesses were audited, including take-away food outlets, cafes and restaurants, retail businesses, pubs and bars.
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.Sandra Parker, Fair Work Ombudsman
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 pay slips and failing to comply with record-keeping requirements.
More than half of the total money recovered during the audits came from hospitality businesses, with 67 employers back-paying $181,557 to 573 employees across the three regional areas.
Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said in a written statement the findings highlighted young workers were particularly vulnerable to receiving below minimum wages and conditions.
"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," she 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."
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In response to the breaches, the FWO issued 35 cautions, 37 on-the-spot fines and nine compliance notices. Wage back payments made by businesses ranged from $7 up to $40,000.
Information for the fast food, restaurant and café sector is available at fairwork.gov.au/frac. The FWO has a range of resources available to help employers, including the Small Business Showcase.
Employers and employees can visit www.fairwork.gov.au or call the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94 for free advice and assistance about their rights and obligations in the workplace. A free interpreter service is available on 13 14 50.