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Volunteering in New Zealand: What Are Your Rights?

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Is your volunteer work in New Zealand fair?

Working for free for a good cause is a great way to give back to New Zealand while you’re travelling New Zealand. There are many reasons to incorporate volunteering into your gap year or working holiday, (just look at 10 Reasons to Volunteer During Your Gap Year). However, it’s important to know your rights as a volunteer in New Zealand in order to not be taken advantage of. Not that it happens often, but like everywhere in the world, there’s also a couple of dodgy organisations that should be avoided. Wise up by checking out our guide below on what are your rights when volunteering in New Zealand.

Once you know what to expect from a volunteering position, take a look at the volunteering opportunities listed on our backpacker job board!

A quick introduction to volunteering in New Zealand

According to Employment New Zealand, “for somebody to be a volunteer they must not expect payment and they must not receive payment”. If your intention is to gain a reward in exchange for your work, like food and accommodation, or you don’t have control over the amount of time you work, then this is considered work rather than volunteering. In this case, read our guides at:

There are a great deal of volunteering opportunities in New Zealand covering a broad ranges of roles, such as administration, accounting and research to gardening, retail, teaching and sport. Here are a few articles that might interest your inner volunteer:

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Do you need a visa to volunteer in New Zealand?

Whether you need a visa to volunteer in New Zealand depends on if you receive any rewards for doing so. Immigration New Zealand states that volunteering in exchange for a “gain or reward” is considered as work and therefore you will legally be required to have a work visa to volunteer. For example, if you receive food, accommodation, cash, free tickets to an event, an activity paid for, or transport, for example, in exchange for your volunteering work, you will need to have a visa to legally do that volunteer work in New Zealand.

Be aware that not all volunteer positions will call for a work visa, so it is up to you to judge whether the position would be legal for you to do on your current visa. Volunteer opportunities are very limited for those on just a visitor visa.

Most people, when travelling in New Zealand, get a working holiday visa in order to work/volunteer in New Zealand. Find out more at What is a Working Holiday Visa?

For more information on visitor visas in New Zealand, see Visitor Visa: Do You Need a Visa to Visit New Zealand?

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What are your rights when Volunteering in New Zealand?

As a volunteer, you are not an employee of the business or organisation you are volunteering for, therefore you are not covered by employment laws in New Zealand. You are covered by Health & Safety at Work act, Human Rights Act 1993, the Criminal Records (Clean Slate) Act 2044 and the Privacy Act 1993.

In short, this means that you have the right to be treated fairly and not to be discriminated against due to your age, gender, sexual orientation, beliefs, marital or family status, disability, employment status or race. You also have the right to a healthy and safe work environment, know that your personal information is not used/collected/disclosed/stored inappropriately, and you don’t have to mention convictions on your volunteer application. In return, you must also treat the people you work with a non-discriminatory way and follow the organisation’s policies and procedures.

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Do you need a contract to work in New Zealand?

In short, no. Depending on what the volunteer work is and the duration of the volunteer work, this might determine whether you want to draw up (or the organisation offers) a volunteer contract.

For short-term volunteer opportunities like community planting days and beach clean-ups, for example, a volunteer contract is not likely to be necessary. For longer-term volunteer positions like volunteer firefighting, long-term projects, fund-raising, etc. there will likely be a few policies and procedures that the organisation want to make clear to volunteers.

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Taxes and accepting rewards

Do you need to pay tax when volunteering in New Zealand?

As you are not getting paid, you do not need to pay any income tax for volunteering in New Zealand.

Can you accept rewards?

Sure you can receive other rewards, whether it’s an activity, a free T-shirt, a cake, a barbecue lunch or whatever you’re lucky enough to get. However, the reward should not be contingent to your work. This means that it’s offered to you as “perk” rather than something you have to work for. For example, if you are told: “if you work an extra two hours then I will give you a meal” then it is considered as a reward for work and will be seen and treated under the New Zealand tax rules. Remember, if you volunteer for any rewards or gain then you will need a work visa.

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