Migrant exploitation

Exploitation for work is a serious crime. Employers who exploit migrants can be imprisoned for up to 7 years and fined up to NZ $100,000.

All migrants are entitled to minimum employment rights

As an employee you have the right to:

  • written employment agreements,
  • minimum wage if you’re 16 years or older,
  • paid rest breaks,
  • sick leave, bereavement leave, parental leave, and domestic violence leave,
  • public holidays,
  • 1.5 times your normal pay rate plus another day off, if you work on a public holiday that is otherwise a normal working day
  • 4 weeks of paid annual leave
  • ask for payslips, and
  • be treated fairly if you lose your job through being fired.

Minimum employment rights can not be taken away from any employee.

Employers can be punished for failing to meet their obligations as an employer. 

Minimum rights for employees

Common types of exploitation

You may be a victim of exploitation if you:

  • have to pay part or all your wages back to your employer,
  • do a “deal” and are charged a premium (money for getting a job),
  • are paid too little money for your work or none at all,
  • you are made to work an excessive number of hours, with no break,
  • have no time-off from work,
  • are not paid for holidays or annual leave,
  • cannot leave your workplace because the doors and windows are locked, or
  • must ask for permission to eat, sleep, or go to the toilet.

You may also be a victim if your employer:

  • forces you to do work that is not part of your job such as clean their home,
  • does not respect your minimum employment rights,
  • provides you with accommodation as part of your wages/salary, but makes you pay for it more than what is permitted by law
  • threatens to harm you or your family if you don’t cooperate
  • keeps your passport, or
  • forces you to have sex with them.

How to keep yourself safe

Do not give your passport to your employer. Keep it and other travel documents in a safe place. Where possible, keep copies of your passport and visa in your home country.

An employer must provide an employee with a copy of their individual employment agreement. Keep the agreement in a safe place.

Keep a record of all hours and days you work, including:

  • the amount and dates you’re paid, and
  • any amounts taken from your payments by your employer.

Where possible, have your wages paid into a personal bank account. This protects your money and can help you keep track of your wage payments.

How to report exploitation

If your employer is exploiting you, please contact Employment New Zealand for free on 0800 20 90 20.

We will treat you fairly if you tell us about genuine exploitation at work. We can take action against your employer and help enforce your rights.

If English isn't your first language, you can use a free telephone interpreting service called Ezispeak. Call us after 9:00am, ask for Ezispeak, and tell us which language you speak. Interpreters are available for over 180 different languages.

If you’re in immediate physical danger, call 111 and ask for Police.

Other services

Other services are available to report exploitation to.

Mediation Services

If you have a disagreement or issue that you’re not able to solve with your employer, Employment Mediation Services can arrange a free mediation to help you to sort out the problem.

Make a request for mediation

Citizens Advice Bureau

The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) provides free advice on dealing with complaints and disputes.

Find a Citizens Advice Bureau – Citizens Advice Bureau (external link)

Community Law

If you need free legal advice, you can contact Community Law.

Community Law website (external link)

Would I get in trouble if I report?

Some employers know that migrant workers can be afraid to report exploitation at work, if the employees are:

  • working when their visa does not allow them to work, or
  • in New Zealand unlawfully because their visa has expired.

Migrants can be worried they will have to leave New Zealand. This is wrong.

If you report exploitation, Immigration New Zealand may let you complete your visit. This can happen even if you have been working without the right visa.

Migrant exploitation — Immigration New Zealand website (external link)


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