Understanding award wages: Paying horticulture staff

As a business owner or HR manager in the landscape and horticulture industry, it’s important to understand the laws and regulations surrounding award wages. The award wages system in Australia is designed to ensure that all employees in a specific industry or occupation are paid a minimum rate of pay, which is determined by the Fair Work Commission. In this article, we’ll discuss the basics of award wages in the landscape and horticulture industry and how to ensure compliance with the laws and regulations.

National Employment Standards

Employers must comply with the National Employment Standards (NES) which are a set of minimum employment entitlements for all employees in Australia, regardless of the award that applies. These entitlements include the right to request flexible working arrangements, unpaid parental leave, and notice of termination.

Two male horticultural workers in high-vis clothing, working in accordance with award wage legislation and smiling at the camera.

Good pay makes for happy horticultural workers. Image source

The Fair Work Ombudsman’s role

The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) is an independent government agency in Australia that’s responsible for enforcing compliance with federal workplace laws, including the Fair Work Act 2009 and the National Employment Standards. It provides information and advice to employers and employees about their rights and obligations under these laws, conducts investigations and audits to ensure compliance, and can take legal action against employers who breach their obligations. The FWO also provides educational materials and resources to help employers and employees understand their rights and responsibilities under federal workplace laws.

Which award rate applies to you?

The first step in understanding award wages is to determine which award applies to your business. Awards are determined by the Fair Work Commission and are based on the industry or occupation of the employees.

To access the latest award rates for the job you’re advertising, use this online calculator provided by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Each award provides a base pay rate for employees, which varies depending on the level of skill and experience. In addition to the base, the award also provides additional pay rates for overtime, weekend, and public holiday work. Employers must also provide employees with certain entitlements such as leave, including annual leave, personal leave, and carer’s leave.

It’s important for employers to be aware of the award wage rates and conditions and to ensure that you’re paying your employees at least the minimum rate as set out in the award. Employers who fail to comply with the award may be subject to penalties and fines.


In addition to the base rate of pay, the award may also provide for additional allowances such as tool allowances, shift allowances, and lead-in allowances. Any allowances that apply to an employee’s job could be something you’re expected to contribute to under the award.

Leave loading

The award may provide for leave loading, which is an additional payment that employees receive when they take annual leave. Ensure your employees are paid the correct amount of leave loading as set out in the award.


The award may also provide for different overtime rates depending on the day of the week or the number of hours worked. Employers must ensure that employees are paid the correct overtime rate as set out in the award.

Penalty rates

Different penalty rates for work on weekends, public holidays, or outside of normal working hours may be provided for under the award. Employers must ensure that the correct penalty rates are paid as set out in the award.

Public holidays

Certain requirements for work on public holidays, such as higher rates of pay or time and a half may also be provided for. Employers must meet these requirements as set out in the award.

Ride-on mower operator with award wage.

A fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. Image source

Allowances for travel and accommodation

Allowances for travel and accommodation for employees required to travel for work may apply to certain employees. The provision of these allowances must be met in accordance with the award.


Employers must comply with the Superannuation Guarantee (SG) legislation, which requires employers to contribute a certain percentage of an employee’s ordinary time earnings to a complying superannuation fund. The award may also provide for additional superannuation contributions.

Rosters and shifts

The award may provide for certain requirements for rosters and shifts, such as minimum rest breaks and notice of shift changes. As an employer, you must comply with these requirements as set out in the award.

Award flexibility

Some awards have provisions for flexibility that allow employers and employees to negotiate flexible working arrangements such as variations to hours of work, leave arrangements, or arrangements for shift work, overtime and penalty rates. This is not a way to short-change staff, but rather to negotiate a better deal for all parties.

Fair Work Act

The Fair Work Act sets out the minimum rights and obligations of employers and employees in the workplace. This includes providing a safe and healthy working environment, and complying with anti-discrimination and anti-bullying laws.

Pay slip requirements

Employers must provide employees with a pay slip within one day of the employee being paid. Pay slips must include certain information such as gross and net pay, the number of hours worked, any deductions made and the pay rate.

Record keeping

Employers must keep accurate records of their employees’ pay and conditions, including hours worked, overtime, and leave taken. This can help to ensure compliance with the award and to provide evidence of compliance if the employer is audited by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Reviewing the award

Be aware of the award review process that occurs periodically. Make sure you’re up to date with any changes that might have occurred in the award.

Unlawful termination

If an employee is terminated for making a complaint about a breach of the award, the employee may have a claim for unlawful termination. Employers should ensure that they have a valid reason for terminating an employee. Learn more here.

Fair Work Inspection

Fair Work Inspectors have powers to enter workplaces without a warrant, to inspect records and interview employees to ensure compliance with the award and other workplace laws. Employers should be aware of their rights and obligations when an inspector visits their workplace.

Award interpretation

In case of any disputes or questions about the interpretation of the award, employers can seek guidance from the Fair Work Commission (FWC) or seek legal advice.


Understanding award wages in the landscape and horticulture industry is crucial for employers to ensure compliance with the laws and regulations. Stay informed of any changes or updates to the award wage rates and conditions and seek legal advice if you have any doubts or questions.


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