In this article, the Growcom Fair Farms Initiative team discusses Australia’s industrial relations system and its key component, the industrial instrument. Furthermore, the team delves into the three types of industrial instruments and what these mean for horticultural businesses.

Our industrial relations system is uniquely Australian. The eight-hour workday and the minimum wage were introduced more than 100 years ago. Since then, the system has been evolving to strike the best balance between the interests of employees and employers.

A key component of the Australian industrial relations system is the industrial instrument. ‘Industrial instrument’ is a catch-all term that includes any legally enforceable document that states the employment terms and conditions of workers in an industry or business.

While not the most exciting concept, industrial instruments hold a lot of important information that businesses should follow in their day-to-day operations and when making decisions that affect workers.

The Fair Farms Standard promotes that businesses should have a working knowledge of the contents and application of the industrial instruments that apply to their workers, including those provided through Labour Hire Providers (LHP).

What are industrial instruments?

There are three types:

  • The National Employment Standards (NES).
  • Modern Awards.
  • Enterprise Agreements.

The NES are the 10 minimum employment entitlements that cover all employees in Australia, regardless of what Award or Enterprise Agreement they are employed under. The NES is also the primary industrial instrument for Award-free employees. The NES overrides any lesser entitlement in an Award or Enterprise Agreement.

Modern Awards are industrial instruments covering the minimum conditions of employment for an industry or occupation. They work in conjunction with the NES and cover entitlements such as:

  • Rates of pay.
  • Shift allowances.
  • Rest and meal breaks.
  • Redundancy payments.

In the horticulture industry, the most common Awards are the Horticulture Award for manual workers and the Clerks – Private Sector Award for administration workers.

Enterprise Agreements are basically Awards for individual businesses. They cover the same entitlements; however, they are negotiated between employers and employees. Many businesses in the horticulture industry created Enterprise Agreements in 2009, which may still apply today. If you have a valid Enterprise Agreement, it substitutes the relevant Award as your industrial instrument.

How to use your industrial instrument

Industrial instruments can be very long and legalistic. The good news is you don’t need to know them off by heart! You just need to know where to look for information when you need it. If your packing shed has an unusually long day you should be able to quickly pull up your Award or Enterprise Agreement, find what your obligations are and implement them easily.

Labour Hire Providers

Labour Hire Providers (LHPs) are commonplace in the horticulture industry, so it is important to understand how industrial instruments operate. Industrial instruments are specific to the direct employer of workers. If your business has an Enterprise Agreement, it cannot be applied to any LHP workers on your site.

When you engage a LHP, you should understand what industrial instruments apply to their workers. This will give you more confidence that your payments can reasonably cover wages, entitlements and a profit margin.

Educating workers

The issues covered by industrial instruments can affect the daily lives of workers, such as their pay rates, break times and rostering. It is important that workers are aware of, and understand, the industrial instruments that apply to them. Having your industrial instrument as a source of truth for both you and your workers means you can proactively work together to solve any issues instead of letting them snowball.

Therefore, you should keep copies of your industrial instruments in common areas for workers. Update these copies when new versions are released, highlighting the changes. You should also include access to the industrial instruments in their induction package. Remember, empowered workers are productive workers!

Find out more

Please visit the Fair Farms website.

Visit and for more information regarding your obligations as an employer.

Fair Farms is developed and delivered by Growcom with support from the Fair Work Ombudsman, the Federal Department of Agriculture and AUSVEG.

This article has appeared in Vegetables Australia – Summer 2020/21. To read the full publication, please click here.