Migrants and other vulnerable 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 (for more on your basic rights, see: “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: “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.
Your employer can’t discriminate against you 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”).
What is migrant exploitation?
Migrant exploitation is a serious crime. An employer can be punished by up to seven years’ prison or a $100,000 fine for exploiting migrant workers.
If you’re an employee, you’re probably being exploited if:
- you have to pay part or all of your wages back to your employer, or
- you’re charged a “premium” (a fee to the employer) simply for getting the job, or
- you’re not paid the minimum wage, or
- you’re made to work unreasonable hours, or
- you have no time off, or
- you’re not paid for holidays, or
- you can’t leave your workplace (for example, the doors and windows are locked), or
- you must ask for permission to eat, sleep or use the toilet.
If you’re worried about exploitation:
- Keep your passport in a safe place – it’s illegal for your employer to take your passport away from you against your will.
- Be familiar with the conditions on your visa – for example, who you can work for and what hours.
- Keep a written record – write down all the hours and days you work and any deductions from your wages made by the employer.