Most ACT restaurants have breached workplace laws, an extensive investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman has revealed.
Gungahlin and Belconnen restaurants fared worst: three-quarters of audited employers were in contravention.
Fair Work inspectors assessed 179 restaurants and cafes and found 105 - or 59 per cent - were in breach of their obligations.
Of those in breach, 48 per cent were not paying employees the correct wages, 32 per cent had technical contraventions for record-keeping or payslips, and the balance had both.
A total of 482 underpaid Canberra employees recovered almost $280,000 as a result of the investigations. One company had to pay back $26,000 to six casual employees wrongly paid part-time rates.
Acting Fair Work Ombudsman Michael Campbell said he was extremely concerned by the level of breaches found in the 17-month audit, but pleased all employers had corrected their underpayments and taken advice from inspectors.
"For employers, there's a big incentive to get it right,'' he said.
"Apart from penalties that can be imposed if a matter is taken to court, no business wants to face an unexpectedly large bill that can seriously disrupt cash-flow.''
In the Ombudsman's final report on the audit program released on Wednesday, restaurants and cafes in the Woden/Weston Creek region had the best rate of compliance at 55 per cent, with the Inner South region on 53 per cent and the Inner North on 38 per cent. Fifty-nine per cent of audited Belconnen eateries had a form of monetary breach, the highest of any area.
Mr Campbell said the campaign was sparked by the large number of complaints from the city's restaurant staff. "We receive a constant stream of complaints from employees in restaurants and cafes in the capital and have found a high level of non-compliance with workplace laws," Mr Campbell said. "Given that, we decided an extensive, targeted campaign was necessary."
Last financial year, 13 per cent of all ACT complaints received by the Ombudsman came from the restaurants and cafes sector, with most complaints and contraventions found related to underpaying of workers. Fair Work inspectors would be revisiting some of the restaurants in breach later this year.