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Communtity Law Manual | Starting & leaving a job | Migrants and other vulnerable workers

Migrants and other vulnerable workers

Migrant workers

What employment rights do I have as a migrant worker?

All workers on temporary visas (“migrant workers”) are entitled to the same minimum employment rights as any other workers in New Zealand. That means your employer must treat you fairly and provide you with minimum employment standards and a safe workplace.

This includes you having a written employment agreement and getting at least the minimum wage and four weeks’ annual holidays and all public holidays. Any deductions from your pay must be legal – like income tax or Kiwisaver. These minimum standards can be enforced by a government labour inspector. (See the chapter “Employment conditions and protections”.)

You can also take a personal grievance against your employer if you’re fired or treated unfairly, the same as any other worker can. (See the chapter “Resolving employment problems”.)

An employer that fails to comply with minimum standards may face a penalty and a set stand-down period from supporting further work visa applications.

If your visa says you must work for a specified employer, then you can’t change employers without applying to Immigration New Zealand for a change in your visa conditions.

Note: It’s illegal to do sex work if you’re in New Zealand on any kind of temporary visa.

Dealing with discrimination and sexual and racial harassment by your employer

Your employer can’t discriminate against you (treat you differently) because of your race or gender or on any of the other illegal grounds set out in New Zealand’s anti-discrimination laws in the Human Rights Act (see “Discrimination” in the “Resolving Employment Problems” chapter).

Racial harassment and sexual harassment, which includes any kind of offensive or unwelcome sexual behaviour, are not allowed in the workplace.

If you’re being discriminated against, or racially or sexually harassed, in your workplace you can either:

  • complain to the Human Rights Commission, or
  • bring a personal grievance under the Employment Relations Act 2000 (but not both).

What are some signs that I am being exploited?

You’re probably being exploited if:

  • you have to pay part or all of your wages back to your employer
  • you’re charged a “premium” (a fee to the employer) simply for getting the job
  • you’re not paid the minimum wage
  • you’re made to work unreasonable hours
  • you have no time off
  • you’re not paid for holidays
  • you can’t leave your workplace (for example, the doors and windows are locked)
  • you must ask for permission to eat, sleep or use the toilet.

Immigration Act 2009, s 351

Migrant exploitation is a serious crime that can be punished by up to seven years’ prison or a $100,000 fine.

What can I do to protect myself from being exploited?

Passports Act 1992, s 31(1)(d)

It’s best to keep your passport in a safe place. It’s illegal for your employer to take your passport away from you against your will.

Be aware of the conditions of your work or student visa – who you can work for and what hours. You should keep a written record of all the hours and days you work and any deductions from your wages made by the employer.

You can seek help from a labour inspector, the Union Network of Migrants (UNEMIG, which is part of FIRST Union) or the Migrant Workers Association of Aotearoa.

You can also make a complaint to the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment, who have the power to take action against your employer. Complaints can be made online or over the phone with an interpreter – see “Where to go for more support” for the contact details.

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