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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 (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?

Immigration Act 2009, s 351  Passports Act 1992, s 31(1)(d)

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.



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Starting and leaving a job

Where to go for more support

Community Law

Your local Community Law Centre can provide you with free initial legal advice.

Find your local Community Law Centre online: www.communitylaw.org.nz/our-law-centres

Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment

The Employment website of the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment publishes a range of information on employment relations and minimum rights at work.

Website: www.employment.govt.nz
Phone: 0800 20 90 20
Starting a job: www.employment.govt.nz/starting-employment/
Leaving a job: www.employment.govt.nz/ending-employment/

Te Kauae Kaimahi/
New Zealand Council of Trade Unions

Te Kauae Kaimahi is the umbrella body for affiliated unions covering every job and industry in New Zealand. It can provide information about which union may cover the type of work you do.

Website: www.union.org.nz
Email: info@nzpc.org.nz
Phone: (04) 385 1334

New Zealand Prostitutes Collective

The New Zealand Prostitutes Collective is a nationwide organisation run by sex workers for sex workers. They provide information and services for people who are doing sex work or thinking about doing sex work.

Website: www.nzpc.org.nz
Email: info@nzpc.org.nz
Phone: 04 382 8791
Instagram: www.instagram.com/_nzpc/

Union Network of Migrants (UNEMIG)

UNEMIG or Union Network of Migrants is an association of migrant workers within FIRST Union.

Website: www.unemig.org.nz
Email: unemig@firstunion.org.nz 
Phone: 0800 863 477

Migrant Workers Association

The Migrant Workers Association NZ fights for migrant workers’ rights and against injustice and exploitation in the workplace.

Website: migrantworkers.org.nz
Email: help@migrantworkers.org.nz
Phone: 0800 863 477
Facebook: www.facebook.com/migrantworkersassociationaotearoa/

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