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Once a claim for asylum has been lodged and an initial immigration interview has been conducted, asylum seekers are usually given a temporary work visa. Such visas are valid for either three, six or twelve months at a time.

Types of Work

If you obtain refugee status and also a visa that allows you to work in New Zealand, you can work in one of two capacities: as an employee or as a contractor. It is important to know which category of work you fall under as each one carries different rights and responsibilities.

The most common form of employment in New Zealand is as an employee.


There are three main types of employees:

Full/part-time: You work on a permanent basis and will usually work agreed regular hours that are listed in your employment agreement. Generally, you will be (or become) entitled to all of the minimum entitlements (i.e. annual leave, public holidays, etc) in this type of employment.

Fixed-term: Your employment lasts for a fixed period of time (e.g. 3 months) which is stated in your employment agreement. Employers must have a genuine reason for using a fixed-term arrangement (i.e. to cover parental leave, or for a fixed-term project). Your entitlements will depend on how long the fixed term arrangement is for (i.e. you only become entitled to sick leave if your fixed term is for 6 months or more).

Casual: You do not have any set hours. You are offered work by your employee which you can accept or reject. Your employer cannot insist that you are available for shifts.

Your Rights

The law sets out minimum entitlements that your employer must give to you, including being paid a minimum wage in cash ($20 per hour, from July 2020) and rest and meal breaks. You are entitled to sick leave if you have worked for the employer for at least six months. Some entitlements (like annual leave) only apply in some circumstances, such as if you are in permanent employment. If you aren’t sure about your entitlements, or you think you might not be getting what you are entitled to, you should seek advice.  You can also find out more from the MBIE website here.

As an employee, you are entitled to certain rights set out in the Employment Relations Act 2000, the Minimum Wage Act 1983, the Holidays Act 2003, and the Parental Leave Act 1987 among others. These include:

  • a written employment agreement;
  • minimum wage;
  • remuneration for working on public holidays;
  • reasonable paid and unpaid rest;
  • protection from discrimination for age, sex, ethnicity, culture, or religion;
  • a safe work environment with proper training, equipment, and supervision; and
  • having proper health and safety systems, information, and training.

Generally, as an employee, you will be paid automatically by your employer (the person or company you work for) on a weekly, fortnightly, or monthly basis in accordance with the terms of your employment agreement and the law.

There are many other rights and entitlements you may have as an employee.  You can find more detail about your rights as an employee on the Employment New Zealand Website here for more information.


Your employer deducts PAYE (“pay as you earn”) income tax from your wage or salary and pays this to Inland Revenue on your behalf. When you start work you will need to provide your IRD number and the correct tax code. Your tax code determines how much tax you pay so it is important you make sure your employer is using the right code or you could be paying the wrong amount of tax (see our section on Finance below for more information). 

Your Responsibilities

As an employee, you have certain responsibilities under your employment agreement and New Zealand employment law, such as:

  • Adhere to your responsibilities under your employment agreement. 
  • Do your job the best you can.
  • Listen to and follow your employer’s reasonable and lawful instructions.
  • Be honest and show integrity.
  • Respect other employees’ rights.
  • Not act in ways that harm your employer’s reputation or interests.
  • Show due care and competence.
  • Take reasonable care to look after the safety of yourself and others.

Your Employer’s Responsibilities

Your employer has a legal obligation to provide you with an employment agreement and you are entitled to keep a copy. It is important that you read it because it includes important information and details about your job and your rights, such as:

  • Your role (what you will be doing).
  • Your pay rate (how much you will be paid and at what frequency).
  • The hours and days you will work.
  • Your rights as an employee.
  • Annual leave, sick leave, and other leave entitlements (such as bereavement leave and family violence leave).
  • How much notice is required to end your employment (by you or the employer).

Your employer should also provide the tools, equipment, and material that you need to do your work.

Trial Period

Your employment agreement may state that you will be put on a trial period for up to 90 days. A trial period lets an employer (with 19 or fewer employees) dismiss you without justification within the first 90 days of your employment. During the trial period you have the rights of an employee, but, if you are dismissed, you cannot bring a claim for unjustifiable dismissal.  This is subject to the employer failing to give you the required notice, or the 90 day trial period clause being invalid (for example, because you were previously employed by the same employer).  This also does not mean you cannot raise a grievance if your employer has mistreated you, or bring a claim if your employer has not given you your minimum entitlements.

Minimum Wage

The minimum wage for an employee over the age of 16 in New Zealand is $20 per hour. However, if you are “starting out” or training, the minimum wage is $16 per hour.  After the first six months of training, you generally should be moved up to the adult minimum wage. If you are under 16, there is no minimum wage.

It is illegal for an employer to charge an employee a fee for getting or keeping a job. If you are being required to pay some of your wages back to your employer, or make any other ‘premium’ payment to keep your job, you should contact Employment New Zealand.

If you think you are being paid less than the minimum wage or are concerned about your wages generally, contact Employment New Zealand on 0800 20 90 20 or visit their website here for more information.

Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC)

If you have an accident at work or outside of work, you are entitled to ACC cover. Your doctor or other medical providers can apply for this for you.  There are also special injuries or conditions that may arise from your work that may be covered by ACC, even if it wasn’t an accident.  If you are covered, ACC will pay for:

  • Some or all of the cost of any treatment for your injury; and
  • Up to 80% of your income if you cannot work because of your accident.

Problems at Work

If you have a problem at work for any reason, the first step is to talk to your manager or employer to see if it can be resolved. It is always possible to raise a personal grievance, whether or not you have spoken to your manager or employer first. 

You can raise a personal grievance against your employer if:

  • Your employment has ended without good reason or good process. However, there may be other circumstances where employment ends without good reason or good process, such as in cases of constructive dismissal.
  • You are treated differently because of your ethnicity, race, gender, age, or marital status.
  • Your employer or another employee is harassing you.
  • Your employer has treated you in a way that disadvantages you in your work.

A personal grievance must be raised within 90 days of the problem occurring, or you become aware of the problem. For more information about how to resolve problems at work or raising a personal grievance, go to the Employment New Zealand website here.

If your employer doesn’t listen to your grievance, or you don’t feel safe or able to raise your grievance with your employer, you can go directly to mediation services provided by MBIE and ask for help with raising your grievance. This is a free service and you can find out more on the MBIE website.

Ending Employment

Employment can end in different ways. If you do not want to work somewhere any longer, you need to give the required amount of notice under your employment agreement. 

Your employer may also decide they do not want you to continue employment with them. Under the Employment Relations Act 2000, there are strict rules around when an employer can end employment. Your employer must have a good reason to end your employment and must follow a good process when dismissing you.  This includes giving you the proper amount of notice or paying you in lieu of notice.  Depending on the circumstances and the terms of your employment agreement you can be dismissed for:

  • Repeated or serious misconduct.
  • Serious and sustained performance issues. This is a high threshold for termination and requires employers to follow a performance management plan first.
  • Incompatibility (a fundamental breakdown between you and one or more other employees or the employer).
  • Medical incapacity (inability to do your job due to illness or injury over a period of time).
  • Redundancy (your position is no longer available). 

An employer must act in good faith, and in mutual trust and confidence and where an employer is thinking about ending your employment they must tell you and provide you with an opportunity to respond. You may request a written statement of the reasons for dismissal up to 60 days after being dismissed and your employer must respond within 14 days of a request. 

For more information about ending employment, including the required proper process and your rights in such a process, visit the Employment New Zealand website.


Contractors are not employees. They enter into a contractual relationship with another person to provide services. They earn income by invoicing a person for their services, rather than receiving a wage or salary. If you are a contractor:

  • You are paid once you have finished a job or contract, or by progressive payments.  You are only paid for the work you are contracted to do.
  • You do not have minimum entitlements like employees.  For example, you are not entitled to be paid for public holidays or when you are away from work because you are sick, or for some other reason.
  • You pay your own tax as well as other work-related payments, for example, insurance.
  • You supply your own tools, equipment, and materials.
  • You may subcontract unless your contract expressly provides otherwise.

If you are still unsure about whether you are an employee or a contractor, or your entitlements contact Employment New Zealand on 0800 20 90 20 or visit their website for more information.