A branch of the District of Columbia government helped 1,723 employes recover $226,575 in unpaid wages during the last fiscal year.

The recovery came from enforcement of the city minimum wage law by the wages and hours division of the D.C. Department of Labor.

The division has eight investigators who check on complaints and conduct routine audits of the 15,216 employers covered by the law, according to director Richard R. Seideman.

The approximately $226,500 that was recovered for employes in fiscal 1978 represented chiefly the underpayment of hourly wages and overtime, which is supposed to be paid at premium rates.

According to figures from the wages and hours division, the amount of collections has been declining in recent years since 1973, when $414,451 was recovered. There was one exception, however, in 1976, when a lawsuit settled a minimum wage case in the hotel industry; the recovery was just under $1 million.

According to an annual report of the wages and hours division, the hotel and restaurant industry this year had the most reported violations. In 234 investigations, 112 employers were found to owe back wages of $77,321, most in overtime pay. The next highest violator was the retail trade industry, where 76 employers were found to owe $30,325.

The division also recovered $2,296 owed to nine household maids employed in private homes.

The wages and hours division is responsible for enforcing locally adopted wage orders in nine industries. Local minimum wages range from $2.50 an hour in small retail businesses and beauty shops to $3 an hour in laundries and dry cleaners.

In most-but not all-instances, whenever the D.C minimum wage falls below the federal minimum wage rate, the federal figure applies. The present federal minimum is $2.65, scheduled to rise to $2.90 in January.

The D.C. Wage-Hour Board, which adopts the local wage orders after hearings, is expected to act soon on a $3.50 minimum wage for maids and other household workers. That would be the highest government-set minimum wage for any employe group in the United States except Alaska.