Some 940 inspections in the wholesale and retail sectors uncovered €348,550 owed to staff by their employers, according to figures provided by Jobs Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor.
In the food and drink industry, there were twice the inspections, but unpaid wages were €332,903.
Other sectors were more compliant. For example, 150 inspections in the professional services sector uncovered only €3,872 in owed earnings, while 82 inspections in the health, nursing, and childcare sector netted €156,071 from employers, and 94 inspections of the construction industry netted €127,100.
John Douglas, the general secretary of the Mandate trade union, which represents thousands of workers in retail, said the underpayment of wages was a massive problem in the services sector, particularly in retail and hospitality, with the exploitation extending to basic terms and conditions, as well as additional payments, such as overtime and Sunday premiums.
He said there was only a limited number of inspectors, and so he estimated that for every one employer caught underpaying their staff another four or five go undetected.
Mr Douglas said there are very few prosecutions of employers for failing to pay workers adequately, with most simply being ordered to pay the monies.
Therefore, he said, they are willing to risk underpayment, until they are caught.
Mr Douglas said that the rogue employers should be dealt with more severely and he said that they should be named and shamed.
A breakdown of detection of unpaid wages was also provided by the Jobs Minister, in answer to a parliamentary question from Roisin Shortall.
That revealed that county size did not necessarily mean more inspections were carried out, nor that the amounts recovered would be greater.
For example, while Cork accounted for 332 inspections, just €25,538 was recovered. That compared to 181 inspections in Wexford, which led to orders for repayment of €135,313 in owed earnings.
The 1,067 inspections in Dublin netted a total of 491,595. At the other end of the scale, there were just 36 inspections in Leitrim, leading to the retrieval of €715.
If there is reason to believe that employees have been paid less than the minimum amount provided for by the law, the Workplace Relations Commission seeks to recover unpaid wages for all employees, past and present.
The employer is told to calculate the extent of any unpaid wages due and those calculations are then checked by the inspector to ensure the rates of pay comply with relevant legislation.
The WRC seeks to have the unpaid earnings paid as soon as possible, and it does not have the power or authority to agree a compromise sum, or negotiate any part of the employee’s legal entitlements.