Staff working at take-away food outlets in Western Australia are being urged to check they are getting their proper pay and conditions.

The Federal Workplace Ombudsman is concerned that large numbers of young people and migrant workers might be being short-changed.

“The preliminary findings of random audits of the fast-food sector suggest there is a lack of awareness among employers of their workplace obligations,” said state director Leigh Quealy.

Quealy said that almost half of the 120 employers scrutinised by his inspectors so far were failing to comply with workplace laws.

The Western Australian office is asking more than 230 take-away outlets to open their books as part of a nation-wide food services campaign.

Around the country, inspectors are randomly auditing up to 1000 businesses including bakeries, butchers, dairy producers, coffee shops, grocers, smallgoods stores and seafood and poultry suppliers.

Quealy said that of employers audited in WA so far, 48 per cent had breaches – mostly minor – but many relating to underpayment of staff.

“It is very concerning to find such a high level of non-compliance,” he said.

As a first step, businesses found to be underpaying workers would be asked to rectify the matter voluntarily. However, he signalled that legal action would be considered against those found to be blatantly abusing the law.

Maximum penalties of $33,000 apply to breaches of the Workplace Relations Act.