The Fair Work Ombudsman has helped recover $585,000 for 755 retail staff who were being unknowingly underpaid.

The underpayments came to light following random audits of almost 2,000 retail employers by the Ombudsman as part of its targeted education and compliance campaign.

NSW employers accounted for 41 per cent of the total underpayment, with businesses being asked to reimburse $237,786 to 220 employees.

Fair Work Ombudsman Nicholas Wilson says targeted compliance work aims to ensure workers are protected and receive their full pay.

“Many employers underpay as the result of a lack of information or they make mistakes interpreting the information they have,” he said.

“Our proactive work helps improve understanding among employers of their workplace responsibilities.”

Of 1866 employers audited so far, 26 per cent have recorded a total of 653 contraventions that have been primarily relatied to underpayment of wages, failure to conform with payslip requirements and failure to adhere to time and wage requirements.

A further 224 businesses remain under investigation.

In addition to underpayment of wages, inspectors also found some retailers were employing adults only, potentially in breach of anti-discrimination laws, as well as unlawfully requiring staff to make purchases in-house and deducting the price from employees’ wages. 

Gary Black, executive director of the National Retail Association (NRA), echoed the Ombudsman’s conclusions that the campaign results are positive.

“In terms of non-compliance, 36.5 per cent of the issues were technical or minor breaches related to time and wage records or pay slip requirements,” he said.

“Further, only half of non-compliance cases involved employees being underpaid.

“This means that the vast majority of all retailers audited were paying staff correctly and were in substantive compliance with the terms and conditions of the Modern Retail Award.”

The campaign did not include food retailers – who were the subject of a separate national food services campaign in 2008-09.

The Fair Work Ombudsman conducts four national and about 30 state and regional targeted and compliance campaigns annually.

Last financial year, targeted campaigns resulted in 6779 businesses being audited Australia-wide and a total of $4.7 million in underpaid entitlements being returned to 7613 employees.