Migrant exploitation

If you are a migrant worker you have the same rights as New Zealand workers, and it is a crime for employers to exploit you. We can help migrants who are being exploited.

Rights for migrant workers

All workers in New Zealand have rights as employees. Your employer cannot take away your rights. As an employee you have the right to:

  • holidays
  • leave
  • work breaks
  • wages
  • written employment agreements.

Your employment rights (in English and other languages)

You may be a victim of migrant exploitation if:

  • your employer bullies or threatens you
  • someone keeps your passport and money from you
  • you cannot leave your workplace because the doors and windows are locked
  • you must ask permission to eat, sleep, or go to the toilet
  • you have no time off for medical appointments, to go shopping or meet friends
  • you are paid too little money or none at all
  • your employer forces you to work to pay off a debt
  • your employer threatens to harm you or your family if you don’t cooperate.

If any of these things affect you, contact New Zealand Police. If you’re in immediate physical danger, call 111 and ask for Police.

How an employer may be exploiting employees PDF 824KB

Translations of this document:

Chinese (simplified) PDF 368KB

Chinese (traditional) PDF 350KB

Fijian PDF 293KB

Gujarati PDF 906KB

Hindi PDF 287KB

Korean PDF 325KB

Malay PDF 294KB

Punjabi PDF 863KB

Samoan PDF 291KB

Tagalog PDF 292KB

Tongan PDF 344KB

Vietnamese PDF 297KB

Information for migrants

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

  • working when their visa does not allow them to work
  • in New Zealand unlawfully because their visa has expired
  • worried they will have to leave New Zealand.

Some employers use this fear to take away your rights. This is wrong. The New Zealand Government wants to stop employers from exploiting migrants. We want you to report any exploitation at work.

If you report exploitation, you may be able to stay in New Zealand while we investigate and prosecute your employer. We may let you complete your visit. This can happen even if you have been working without the right visa.

What to do if your employer exploits you

Do not be afraid to ask for help. Immigration New Zealand (INZ) and the Labour Inspectorate 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. We will let you apply for another visa to stay in New Zealand, even if you have been working on the wrong visa.

If you qualify for a new visa, you can stay here to complete your original visit. If you do not qualify for a visa, INZ will still treat you fairly. We may let you stay in New Zealand temporarily to act as a witness in the court case against your employer.

INZ expects you to tell us the truth and cooperate in the case against your employer. If you don’t tell us the truth, or cooperate, it may affect our decisions about your future in New Zealand.

If you are being exploited at work, the Labour Inspectorate, INZ and New Zealand Police will help you.

Ways to help keep yourself safe

Keep copies of your passport and visa in your home country with family or friends. In New Zealand, keep your passport and other travel documents in a safe place. It’s illegal for your employer to take your passport from you.

It’s a good idea to write down the phone number of your home country’s embassy in New Zealand and keep it handy.

Your employer must provide you with a written employment agreement covering the terms and conditions of your employment. Keep this in a safe place.

Understand the work conditions of your work or student visa. For example, does it list who you can work for or a maximum number of hours you can work each week?

If your visa says you must work for a particular employer, you can’t change employers without applying to INZ for a variation of conditions. But you can stop working for an employer who abuses or exploits you. Your safety must come first.

It is a good idea to write down all the hours and days that you work, the amounts and dates that you’re paid, and any amounts taken from your payments by your employer.

Where possible have your wages paid into a personal bank account that only you or another authorised person has access to. This protects your money and can help you keep track of your wage payments.

Ways to get help

If you think you are being exploited, support is available. It is important to get help as soon as possible. You can talk to your supervisor, employer or union representative. They may be able to help you or direct you to someone who can.

You can also contact one of these groups for support.

MBIE Contact Centre

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) provides confidential help and advice on employment issues, pay and holidays. 

Call the Employment Services Contact Centre on 0800 20 90 20.

MBIE Mediation Service

If you have a dispute with your employer you can use MBIE’s free mediation service to help resolve it.

Mediation | Employment New Zealand

New Zealand Police

If you think you are a victim of migrant exploitation, you can also contact the New Zealand Police. If you are in immediate physical danger, call 111 and ask for Police.

Contact us | New Zealand Police

Citizens Advice Bureau

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

Find a CAB | Citizens Advice Bureau

Community Law

If you need free legal advice, Community Law may be able to help.

Free legal help | Community Law

Unions

Unions can help you with exploitation issues and help ensure you are being treated fairly. They can also negotiate with your employer on your behalf. 

Find your trade union | New Council of Trade Unions

PSA organising centre | Public Service Association 

Information for advocates and the public

Migrants may be worried that if they report exploitation they’ll be deported, especially if they are doing work that is not allowed by their visa conditions or are in New Zealand after their visa has expired. Employers may use the fear of deportation to pressure migrants into work in conditions that are below legal minimum standards

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), including INZ and the Labour Inspectorate want to stop migrant exploitation.

MBIE works closely with non-government and community groups to raise awareness of migrant exploitation.

Working together to combat people trafficking and migrant exploitation PPT 2MB

Exploitation is a serious crime

Employers who exploit migrants can be imprisoned for up to 7 years and be fined up to NZ $100,000.  They can also be punished for failing to meet their obligations as an employer.