Working Visas for Rural Employers

5 July 2021

Working Visas for Rural Employers

Migrant workers play a critical role in filling job openings not filled by local labour. However, it’s important for employers to understand that there are significant differences between employing New Zealand citizens and employing migrant workers.

Under the Immigration Act 2009, an employer must not employ a prospective employee who is not entitled to work in New Zealand, or for that employer. This applies whether or not the employer knew that the prospective employee was entitled to work in New Zealand. Employers should therefore only offer work to prospective employees once they have confirmed the employee’s entitlement to work in New Zealand.

Migrant workers are entitled to the same employment rights as any other New Zealander, including that they must have a written employment agreement before they start work. Migrant workers may have English as a second language, so a plain language employment agreement can help to reduce misunderstandings. As with all employees, it is important for migrant employees to be given an opportunity to seek independent advice about the terms of their employment agreements before they start work.

Employees must be paid no less than New Zealand’s current minimum wage. However, Immigration New Zealand may have stipulated a higher rate on the employee’s work visa. Employers must confirm the employee’s work visa before commencement, including any express conditions around wages and hours worked.

Because migrant workers come to New Zealand from other countries and cultures, it is important not only to make them feel included and a part of the community, but also to ensure that they are not being bullied or harassed by anyone in the workplace. Education around an employee’s culture and beliefs may assist in what can often be a difficult transition period. If you know more about an employee’s culture and how they like to work, it will place you in a better position to manage any issues as they arise and before they escalate.

Employers need to keep full and accurate records for every worker they employ, regardless of the worker’s status. The Employment Relations Act 2000 and the Holidays Act 2003 both require employers to keep and maintain records and can be useful to show an employer is providing minimum rights to their workers.

Immigration New Zealand is a helpful resource if you are unsure about employing migrant workers and they can be reached over the telephone or online.

The above is not intended as legal advice, and immigration law can be particularly nuanced. If you unsure about what approach to take in relation to immigrant workers, you should contact your lawyer or specialist immigration advisor.

Simon Middlemiss is part of our Commercial Disputes & Employment team at Norris Ward McKinnon.

Commercial Disputes & Employment Team