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What are my rights?

As an employee in Aotearoa New Zealand, you have ‘minimum” rights that cannot be taken away while at work. These are meant to protect you from being exploited in the workplace.

While these are minimums, you are of course allowed to bargain for more – but make sure they are included in your employment contract.

A few key rights you are entitled to include:

  • a written employment contract
  • to be paid at least the minimum wage
  • paid annual and public holidays
  • other leave, such as sick leave
  • rest and meal breaks.

There are also a number of rights around discrimination, which make it illegal to discriminate against you on anything from your race and gender to your age.

Finally, your rights will be different depending on whether you’re a contractor, volunteer or employee. It’s important you understand what kind of work you're doing and the rights you should be entitled to.

For an interactive option, check out Employment New Zealand’s introductory module on this topic, ‘An Introduction To Your Employment Rights’, here:

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Why is a contract so important?

The foundation of a good job is a proper contract. You should be offered one before you start the job and only start after it has been agreed to and signed.

It's a warning sign to you if the employer won’t give you a contract and keep it updated once you start in the job.

By law, the contract has to contain lots of essential information to be legal. This includes:

  • names of the employee (yourself) and the employer
  • the location of your work
  • your type of employment (permanent or other)
  • duties
  • pay (including commissions, piece rates etc)
  • hours of work
  • whether there's a trial period
  • how to resolve problems.

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How much leave can I take?

As an employee, there are different types of leave that you are allowed to take. These include public holidays, annual holidays, sick leave and bereavement leave.

There are conditions for different types of leave. For example you have to work for 12 months with the same employer to get your full four weeks of annual holiday. The Employment New Zealand link below has more information on what you're entitled to by law.

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What are my hours and pay?

Getting paid is one of the main reasons most people start work, so it makes sense that you have rights around how much you earn!

The minimum adult wage in Aotearoa New Zealand is currently NZ$21.20 an hour before tax, as of 1 April 2022. If you are 16 years or older you must be paid this rate, unless you are on a start-out or training rates - these are both currently NZ$16.96 an hour before tax.

Before you sign a contract or start work, make sure you check how much you should be earning legally so you know you are being paid fairly.

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Health and safety

To enjoy your job, it is important that you are healthy and safe.

As such, your employer has obligations to your health and safety. This includes making sure you are:

  • correctly trained in the use of any specialist equipment
  • aware of any risks or hazards involved
  • given the tools and training to manage risks and hazards
  • provided ongoing training to manage risks and hazards
  • able to raise health and safety concerns with your employer.

You also have the right to rest and meal breaks. The length of these and how many you get depend on the hours you work. For example, an eight-hour work day must have at least two 10 minute paid rest breaks and one 30 minute unpaid meal break.

While your employer does have obligations, you are also responsible for the health and safety of yourself and others around you. These can vary depending where you work. A dairy will have different rules than at a bank, for example, and it's up to you to read your contract and talk to your boss if anything is unclear.

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What if something goes wrong?

If you’re ever unsure about any of your rights, or if you think your employer is going against your rights as an employee, there are several different people you can contact for help.

Talking about your issue with your employer is the best place to start, though if this isn’t possible, there are other options available.

These include:

Finally, bullying, at work or otherwise, is never acceptable. If you feel like you are being unfairly treated, make sure you raise this with your employer.

On any occasion that this isn’t possible, you can contact WorkSafe or Employment New Zealand, which is run by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, for help.

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Key websites

  • Employment Learning Modules
  • Employment New Zealand - Employment New Zealand is able to give you updated information on everything you need to know about your work rights and responsibilities.
  • Human Rights Commission - The Human Rights Commission works to help protect the rights of all people in Aotearoa New Zealand. They look at rights both in work and in your everyday life.
  • Worksafe - Worksafe supports everyone to help them stay safe in the workplace. They’re a great resource to help you understand your rights and how to deal with different circumstances, whatever your job.
  • Young Workers Resource Centre - The Young Workers Resource Centre helps educate and aid young people in the workplace. They hold a number of workshops and their blog is full of useful information.
  • YouthLaw Aotearoa - YouthLaw Aotearoa is a community law centre which provides free legal help to children and young people under 25. Their website contains useful information in relation to your rights.