November 2020 | Fruit & Vegetable News magazine

Our industrial relations system is uniquely Australian. Since the introduction of unions, the 8-hour workday and the minimum wage more than 100 years ago, our system has been ever 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 determines 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 should guide our business decision making and day-to-day operations.

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

What are industrial instruments?

There are three types of industrial instruments:

  • 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 essentially Awards for individual businesses. They cover the same entitlements, however they are negotiated between employers and employees. The horticulture industry saw many businesses creating Enterprise Agreements in 2009, of which many still apply today. If you have an Enterprise Agreement, it replaces 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 abnormally 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

In an industry where Labour Hire Providers (LHPs) are so prevalent, 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 apply to any LHP workers on your site.

When you engage a LHP, you should get an understanding of 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 determine the daily lives of workers, such as their pay rates, break times and rostering. It is important workers are aware of and understand the industrial instruments that apply to them. Having your industrial instrument be 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!