New Zealand is a parliamentary democracy. Citizens chose their representatives in a free and fair multiparty election held most recently in September 2017. The Labour Party formed a coalition government with the New Zealand First Party, with Green Party support. Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern serves as prime minister.
The New Zealand Police, under the Ministry of Police, are responsible for internal security, and the armed forces, under the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for external security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.
The government has effective mechanisms for prosecuting officials who commit human rights abuses; there were no reports of such abuses.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: In late March the government imposed a ban on internet and other publication of the video footage of the March 15 Christchurch terror attack, and on the attacker’s “manifesto.”
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
The government complained to the Chinese embassy following a July 29 incident at the University of Auckland in which three mainland Chinese men verbally and physically assaulted a Hong Kong student while she was at a rally in support of Hong Kong’s antiextradition law protesters. The focus of the government’s complaint was a statement issued by the Chinese consulate in Auckland praising the mainlanders’ actions as “spontaneous patriotism” and criticizing biased coverage of the Hong Kong situation.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
f. Protection of Refugees
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing protection to refugees, who can arrive in the country in three ways: 1) approximately 1,000 refugees per year come through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) resettlement program (with 50 per cent of that number coming from the Asia-Pacific region); 2) an additional approximately 150 asylum seekers (also known as “protection claims,” see below) are recognized as refugees; 3) family members join refugees already living in the country. Although the government’s goal was to decide 75 percent of refugee and protection claims–people who seek asylum after arriving–within 140 days, a media outlet reported in August that only 28 percent of cases were resolved in that time frame due to the heavy caseload.
As of August, eight asylum seekers were being detained either in prison or at the country’s sole refugee resettlement center, according to media outlets. The HRC reported that asylum seekers detained in these prisons are subject to general prison standards; media noted that refugees are subjected to such detentions because of security concerns or cases of uncertain identity. According to media reports, about 5 percent of asylum seekers ask for refugee status immediately after landing in country and nearly 60 percent do so within three months of arriving. A third of cases were overstayers who claimed refugee status before they were deported.
In October, reacting to pressure from lawmakers and human rights organizations, the government abolished a 10-year-old policy of tightly restricting the total number of refugees it would accept annually from the Middle East and Africa and only accepting those with family already living in the country.
Durable Solutions: The government accepts 1,000 refugees annually, under the UNHCR resettlement program. Refugees who arrive in the country through this program are granted permanent residence status. When refugees arrive they stay at a central refugee resettlement center in Auckland for six weeks, where they receive settlement support including help with English, health, education, and finding work for up to 12 months.
Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection to persons who may not qualify as refugees under the country’s UN quota commitment. Approximately 150 asylum seekers–people who have fled from their own country because they fear persecution or harm–were recognized as refugees. Advocacy groups were concerned that the approximately 150 annual asylum seekers outside the quota system did not receive the same level of governmental support, specifically in finding employment, as quota refugees.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were no reports of government corruption during the year. The Serious Fraud Office and police investigate corruption matters. Allegations can be reported anonymously, and the law protects employees who make a report relating to their employers. Agencies such as the Office of the Controller, the Office of the Auditor-General, and the Office of the Ombudsman independently report on and investigate state sector activities, acting as watchdogs for public sector corruption.
Financial Disclosure: The law requires members of parliament, including all cabinet ministers, to submit an annual report of financial interests, including income and assets, which the government releases to the public. Career civil servants are not subject to this requirement but are subject to ethics standards established by the State Services Commission. There were no reports of criminal or administrative sanctions against elected officials for noncompliance with financial regulations.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were cooperative and responsive to their views.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ministry of Justice funded the HRC, which operates as an independent agency without government interference. The HRC had adequate staff and resources to perform its mission.
The Office of the Ombudsman, responsible to parliament but independent of the government, is charged with investigating complaints about administrative acts, decisions, recommendations, and omissions of national and local government agencies; inspecting prisons; and following up on prisoner complaints. The office enjoyed government cooperation, operated without government or party interference, had adequate resources, and was considered effective. The office produced a wide variety of reports for the government that were publicly available on its website.
The law mandates that the Department of Internal Affairs provide administrative assistance to significant public and governmental inquiries into, among other items, human rights abuses. As of October, three human rights-related inquiries were underway: into the conduct of New Zealand forces involved in peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan; into historical abuse in state and faith-based care; and into the protection of the country from terrorist attacks.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements, to bargain collectively, and to conduct legal strikes, with some restrictions. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. While it does not require reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity, the courts may order this at their discretion.
Police have the right to freedom of association and the right to organize and bargain collectively, but sworn police officers (including all uniformed and plainclothes police but excluding clerical and support staff) do not have the right to strike or take any form of industrial action.
Contractors cannot join unions, bargain collectively, or conduct strike action.
Workers may strike while negotiating the right to a collective bargaining agreement or over matters of health and safety. Strikes by providers of key services are subject to certain procedural requirements, including mandatory notice of three to 28 days, depending on the service involved. The list of “key services” was broader than international standards on the definition of “essential services.”
To bargain collectively, unions must be registered, independent, governed by democratic rules, and have a minimum of 15 members. Unions may not bargain collectively on social or political issues.
The government respected these rights and effectively enforced applicable laws without lengthy delays. The law provides penalties for violations of freedom of association or collective bargaining protections and includes fines sufficient to deter violations. Cases were occasionally referred to the Civil Employment Court.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced labor. The government’s efforts to enforce the law were not always effective. Penalties were not sufficiently stringent to deter violations because of the possibility that a fine can be imposed in lieu of imprisonment. Fines can also be imposed for labor violations that may be indicators of forced labor such as underpayment of wages and excessively long working hours.
The government continued to pursue convictions under forced labor and trafficking laws.
Recruitment agencies based in the country that recruit workers from abroad must utilize a licensed immigration adviser. The government expanded partnerships with foreign governments during the year to better monitor and regulate the recruitment of foreign migrant workers. According to the government, the aim of these partnerships was to reduce the risk of exploitation by providing greater transparency in recruitment and compliance to employers.
Foreign migrant workers, including in agriculture, construction, hospitality, and domestic service were vulnerable to forced labor. Some foreign migrant workers were charged excessive and escalating recruitment fees, experienced unjustified salary deductions, nonpayment or underpayment of wages, excessively long working hours, and restrictions on their movement. Some had their passports confiscated and contracts altered. Victims were often deterred from filing complaints out of fear of jeopardizing their visa status. In response to forced labor concerns, foreign-flagged fishing vessels in the country’s economic waters are required to reflag as New Zealand vessels and follow New Zealand labor laws.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and provides for a minimum age of employment, limitations on working hours, and occupational safety and health restrictions for children. By law children younger than 16 years may not work between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. The law also states that children enrolled in school may not work, even outside school hours, if such employment would interfere with their education. The law bans employment of children younger than 15 in hazardous industries such as manufacturing, mining, and forestry.
Inspectors from WorkSafe New Zealand effectively enforced these laws. The law outlines prison sentencing guidelines and fines for the most serious offenses. Penalties were adequate to deter violations.
Children ages 16 to 18 worked in some hazardous industries and occupations, such as agriculture. The law requires them to be fully trained. Children younger than 15 cannot drive a tractor or large vehicle, except children working in agriculture if they are older than 12 and are fully trained or are being trained, or they live on the property. Concerns remained about the commercial sexual exploitation of children (see section 6, Children).
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at for information on the country and its self-governing territories, Cook Islands and Niue, and the dependent territory, Tokelau.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation. The government effectively enforced these prohibitions.
The HRC has an equal opportunity employment team that focuses on workplace gender-related problems. This team regularly surveyed pay scales, conducted a census of women in leadership roles, and engaged public and private employers to promote compensation equality. The Office of Ethnic Affairs continued to take measures to promote ethnic diversity in occupation and employment.
According to the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, Maori and Pacific Island people–and women in particular–remained disadvantaged compared with the general population in terms of conditions of employment and wages.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The minimum hourly wage was above the amount–60 percent of the median household income–that researchers frequently used as an unofficial poverty level.
The law provides that work hours should be set in collective or individual agreements between employers and employees. Although a 40-hour workweek is traditional, employer and employee parties may contractually agree to a workweek of more than 40 hours. Labor regulations do not define an absolute maximum number of overtime hours.
Extensive laws and regulations govern health and safety issues. Employers are obliged to provide a safe and healthy work environment, and employees are responsible for their own safety and health, as well as ensuring that their actions do not harm others. The government requires employers to provide health insurance for their seasonal workers. The law allows workers to refuse to perform work likely to cause serious harm and permits legal recourse if they believed an employer penalized them as a result.
The government proactively investigated labor conditions and in cases of noncompliance with labor law inspectors levied fines, required restitution of wages to workers, and revoked licenses of offenders. The Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment enforces laws governing working conditions, including wages and hours, through Employment New Zealand’s labor inspectorate. The number of inspectors was sufficient to deter violations. In particular, employers who have breached minimum employment standards with regard to vulnerable migrant workers face a set “stand-down” period from the ability to support migrant visa applications.
In 2018 the Employment Relations Authority ordered a South Island-based tour company to pay NZ$75,000 ($48,270) in penalties, having found the company culpable for 153 breaches of employment law covering 30 employees. These breaches ranged from failure to keep proper time and wage records, failure to pay holiday pay, and failure to pay the minimum wage. In addition to fines, the New Zealand Transport Agency revoked the company’s Transport Service License, and Immigration New Zealand placed the company on the stand-down list. As of August, 90 companies or employers in the country were on the stand-down list.
WorkSafe New Zealand deals with occupational health and safety issues. The department’s inspectors effectively enforced safety and health rules in all sectors including the informal economy, and they have the power to shut down equipment if necessary. The department normally investigated reports of unsafe or unhealthy working conditions within 24 hours of notification. Convictions for violations of the occupational health and safety law and the wages and hours law carry either monetary penalties or imprisonment, penalties sufficient to deter violations. The law stipulates penalties for employers who exploit workers, including migrant workers; penalties include imprisonment, a fine, and deportation for noncitizen residents.
Between July 2018 and June 2019, the country saw 82 workplace-related fatalities. Construction, agriculture, forestry, and fishing were the country’s most dangerous sectors; 15 persons were killed in construction-related work. The majority of workplace assessments carried out in 2018 by WorkSafe New Zealand’s health and safety inspectors targeted the high-risk industries and manufacturing. WorkSafe New Zealand reported that 75 percent of surveyed employers changed their workplace practices following its inspections.