U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2005 - New Zealand
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||8 March 2006|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2005 - New Zealand , 8 March 2006, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/441821927.html [accessed 18 December 2014]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 8, 2006
New Zealand is a parliamentary democracy with a population of approximately 4.1 million. Queen Elizabeth II is chief of state and is represented by the governor general. Citizens periodically choose their representatives in free and fair multiparty elections. The 121-member Parliament is elected in a mixed-member, proportional representation system, with 7 seats reserved for members of the native Maori population. The most recent elections were held in September. The Labor Party won 50 parliamentary seats and formed a minority coalition government; Helen Clark remained prime minister. The civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.
The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, and the law and judiciary provide effective means of addressing individual instances of abuse. The following human rights problems were reported:
- disproportionate societal problems for indigenous people
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
There were no further developments in the August 2004 police killing of a man who attacked his wife and police officers with a knife. For the 12-month period ending June 30, 9 new cases of death involving a police officer were received and under investigation at year's end.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.
During the year there were some complaints that individual members of the police committed abuses. The Independent Police Complaints Authority handled complaints of police abuse, ranging from use of abusive language to allegations of complicity in deaths.
In March an assistant police commissioner and 2 former police officers were arrested for sexual offenses against 2 women in Rotorua dating back to 1986 and were charged with 20 counts of rape, indecent assault, and unlawful sexual connection. The case was awaiting trial at year's end.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions generally met international standards, and the government permitted visits by human rights observers. In June 2004 Parliament passed a new corrections act, which came into force in June. The objectives of the act were to eliminate private management of prisons, establish individual management plans for prisoners, and make prisoners' minimum entitlements more consistent with UN standards.
In the 12-month period ending June 30, there were 9 serious assaults on staff by inmates and 18 assaults of inmates by other inmates. During the same period there were 12 recorded deaths in custody, including 5 suicides.
Prison overcrowding was a problem during the year. At year's end there were 6,965 male prisoners and 455 female prisoners, while prison capacity was 6,942 beds for male prisoners and 455 for female prisoners. To alleviate overcrowding, during the year the government continued expansion and new prison construction efforts, used double bunking at prisons, and housed prisoners in police and court cells. In March the Northland Region Correction Facility opened, and its full 350-bed capacity was operational by year's end. An additional 380 beds were added at existing facilities during the year, and 3 new correctional facilities were under construction that would add space for 1,286 inmates over the next 2 years.
Juvenile detainees come under the jurisdiction of Child, Youth, and Family Services (CYFS) rather than the police. On October 4, to relieve pressure on overcrowded facilities, CYFS completed a new youth justice facility, raising to 102 the number of beds available for juvenile offenders serving residential orders and juvenile pretrial detainees. As of November juveniles spent more than 600 detention nights in police cells during the year while waiting for a bed in a youth justice residence.
A government report released in December 2004 concerning the use of excessive force by the Canterbury Emergency Response Unit, also known as the "goon squad," found that management failings in the Department of Corrections allowed the unit to develop an inappropriate militaristic culture, and the department disciplined some unit members for violating proper procedures. On January 28, the Christchurch District Court dismissed a civil suit for compensatory damages brought by one affected prisoner.
In 2003 nine inmates of Auckland's Paremoremo Prison Behavioral Management Regime (BMR) brought a case against the Department of Corrections, alleging that the practices employed by the BMR, a special unit that isolates prisoners who pose a risk to staff or other inmates, constituted torture. In September 2004 the Wellington High Court awarded compensation of $91 thousand (NZ$130 thousand) to 5 of the claimants for breaches of their rights under the Bill of Rights Act, although the court did not find that their treatment constituted torture. The claimants appealed to dispute the amount of the compensation, and in December the Court of Appeal increased the amount awarded in the High Court to $98 thousand (NZ$140 thousand) to correct for a calculation error.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
The police commissioner, appointed by the governor general, is the chief executive of the police force and reports to the minister of police. A board of commissioners, consisting of the commissioner and two deputy commissioners, is responsible for high-level leadership and makes decisions on police strategy, governance, and performance management. The police are organized into 12 districts. There are three operational branches: general duties, criminal investigation, and traffic safety. Allegations of corruption or impunity are referred to the Independent Police Complaints Authority, which can refer cases directly to Parliament. The police generally did not have problems with corruption and impunity.
Arrest and Detention
Police may arrest a suspect without a warrant if they have reasonable cause. Police also may request a warrant from a district court judge. Police may enter premises without a warrant to arrest a person if they reasonably suspect the person of committing a crime on the premises, or if they have found the person committing an offense and are in pursuit. Police must inform arrested persons immediately of their legal rights and the grounds for their arrest.
After a suspect has been arrested and charged, police have the power to release the person on bail until the first court appearance. That bail comes to an end at the first court appearance and is distinct from court bail. Court bail is granted unless there is good reason to believe that the suspect would flee or is likely to be a danger to the community. Police bail is not normally granted for more serious offenses such as serious assault or burglary. Attorneys and families were granted prompt access to detainees.
There were no reports of political detainees.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected this provision in practice.
The Supreme Court is the country's highest court of appeal. It is composed of the chief justice and four other judges appointed by the governor general. Below the Supreme Court is the Court of Appeal; it hears appeals from the High Court, which has original jurisdiction for major crimes and important civil claims. The Court of Appeal also hears appeals on decisions of the district courts in serious criminal matters. The High Court hears appeals from lower courts and reviews administrative actions. Remaining original jurisdiction rests with the 63 district courts. Special courts include the Employment Court, Family Court, Youth Court, Maori Land Court, Maori Appellate Court, and Environment Court. The country's military forces have their own court system, with a Courts Martial and a Courts Martial Appeals Court; appeals from the Courts Martial Appeals Court may be made to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
The law provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants enjoy the rights found in other common-law jurisdictions, including a presumption of innocence, a right to a jury trial, a right of appeal, and the right to counsel, to question witnesses, and to access government-held evidence.
There were no reports of political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions in practice.
2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the government generally respected these rights in practice and did not restrict academic freedom or the Internet. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to ensure freedom of speech and of the press.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law provides for freedom of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights in practice.
c. Freedom of Religion
The law provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respected this right in practice.
Societal Abuses and Discrimination
In November a man was convicted and sentenced to 15 months' imprisonment for abuse directed at Muslims at a bus stop and on a bus in South Dunedin. Also in November, a court sentenced 2 former members of the National Front, a white supremacist group, to 12 months' imprisonment for vandalizing mosques in Auckland following the July subway bombings in London. In July the person charged in October 2004 for sending racist letters to members of Wellington's Somali community and other Muslims was convicted of harassment and in September was sentenced to six months' imprisonment.
The Jewish community numbered approximately 10 thousand persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts during the year. The government-funded Human Rights Commission (HRC) actively promoted religious tolerance.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2005 International Religious Freedom Report.
d. Freedom of Movement within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The law provides for these rights, and the government generally respected them in practice.
There is no statutory authority for imposing a sentence of exile, and the government did not practice forced exile.
Protection of Refugees
The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status in accordance with the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. In practice the government provided protection against refoulement, the return of persons to a country where they feared persecution, and granted refugee status or asylum. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers. The government also provided protection to individuals who may not qualify under the definition of the 1951 convention and the 1967 protocol. Under its refugee quota, the government resettles up to 750 UNHCR-approved refugees per year. In the 12-month period ending July 30, the government approved 761 persons for refugee status.
During the year asylum seeker and former member of the Algerian Parliament Ahmed Zaoui continued to be the subject of a national security risk certificate issued by the Security Intelligence Service, which continued its review of the certificate at year's end. Zaoui was released from detention on bail by order of the Supreme Court in December 2004.
3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The law provides citizens the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
Parliamentarians are elected under a mixed-member, proportional representation system. In the most recent general elections, held in September, the Labor Party won 50 of 121 parliamentary seats and formed a minority government with Jim Anderton's Progressive Party (1 seat) and support from the center-right New Zealand First (7 seats) and United Future (3 seats) parties. The Labor Party also had a cooperation agreement with the Green Party (6 seats). Three other political parties were represented in Parliament: the National Party (48 seats), Maori Party (4 seats), and ACT party (2 seats). Executive authority is vested in a 21-member cabinet led by the prime minister.
Women participated fully in political life. There were 39 women in the 121-seat Parliament. There were 7 women (including the prime minister) on the executive council, which comprises 29 ministers (21 within the cabinet and 8 outside the cabinet). The cabinet included five women. The prime minister, the speaker of the house, and the chief justice of the Supreme Court were women; the governor general also was a woman. There were 2 women in the 25-seat Parliament of the dependent territory of the Cook Islands and 3 women in the 20-seat Parliament of the dependent territory of Niue.
Seven seats in Parliament are reserved for persons of Maori ancestry. The number of Maori seats is adjusted every five years, based on the number of persons of Maori ancestry who register to vote on the Maori electoral roll.
There were 21 Maori in Parliament, including the 7 reserved seats; 3 members of Pacific Island origin; and 1 member each of East and South Asian heritage. The cabinet included at least two members with Maori ancestry.
Government Corruption and Transparency
There were no reports of government corruption during the year.
The law provides for public access to government information, to be provided within 20 working days of a request. Information must be made available unless a good reason, such as concern for national security, exists for not doing so. The requester must be provided with an estimate of any fees before the information is provided.
4. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations 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 very cooperative and responsive to their views.
5. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, disability, and national or ethnic origin, and the government actively enforced it. The HRC, a UN-accredited national human rights institution, investigated complaints of human rights violations and unlawful discrimination and acted as a conciliator. The HRC, which presents an annual report to Parliament, is funded by the government but acts independently.
Violence against women affected all socioeconomic groups. According to a national survey of crime victims conducted in 2001 and released in 2003, an estimated 32 percent of Maori, 17 percent of persons of European ancestry, and 12 percent of Pacific Islanders reported violent abuse by a heterosexual partner at least once in their lifetime; these figures included both men and women. One in four of the women included in the survey reported experiencing violent behavior from a partner at least once. In the year ending June 30, there were 3,374 convictions involving assault by a male on a female. Of these convictions, 51 percent involved Maori men, 30 percent men of European ancestry, and 15 percent Pacific Islanders. Although Maori women and children constituted less than 10 percent of the population, during the 12-month period ending June 30, approximately half of the 19,949 women and children who used the National Collective of Independent Women's Refuges were Maori; 33 percent were of European ancestry, and 6 percent were Pacific Islanders. In March the government established the Taskforce for Action on Violence within Families to coordinate a variety of government initiatives to eliminate family violence, including continuation of its Te Rito program, a national strategy to address all forms and degrees of domestic violence. The government partially funded women's shelters, rape crisis centers, sexual abuse counseling, family violence networks, and violence prevention services. The Family Violence Intervention Program provided training for 1,600 social benefits staff to improve the government's response to clients facing issues of family violence.
The law penalizes spousal rape. During the year the government prosecuted and convicted a small number of persons for spousal rape or unlawful sexual connection with a spouse. Rape crisis groups existed throughout the country and included centers focusing specifically on Maori and Pacific Islanders.
It is illegal to perform female genital mutilation (FGM) or to remove a child from the country to carry out the procedure; violations of the law are punishable by up to seven years in prison. The government funded a national FGM education program. There were no FGM cases reported during the year.
Prostitution is legal. The Prostitution Reform Act sets a minimum age of 18 to work in the sex industry, gives prostitutes the same workplace protections as other industries, and provides for a licensing regime for brothels. The law also eliminates a client's defense of claiming ignorance that a person engaged in commercial sexual activity was under 18, and it extends culpability to any person who receives financial gain from such activity involving an underage person. The law prohibits sex tourism, and citizens who commit child sex offenses overseas can be prosecuted in New Zealand courts. During the year there were no reports of abuse or of the involuntary detention of women involved in prostitution, and no reports of such persons having passports held until employer bonds were repaid.
The Prostitution Reform Act also established a statutory Prostitution Law Review Committee (PLRC) to review the act within three to five years of its enactment (by June 2008), including an assessment of the act's impact on the number of persons engaged in prostitution, and the nature and adequacy of resources available to assist persons in avoiding or leaving employment in the commercial sex industry. The government also had an agreement with the United Future Party to review the act to "address problems associated with street soliciting, under age involvement and local authority control over brothel zoning." In April the PLRC published a baseline profile of the commercial sex industry as a basis for comparison in future years' reviews.
The law prohibits sexual harassment. The HRC offered sexual harassment prevention training.
The Ministry of Women's Affairs addresses problems of discrimination and gender equality, and there is a minister of women's affairs in the cabinet. While the law prohibits discrimination in employment and in rates of pay for equal or similar work, the government acknowledged that a gender earnings gap persisted in practice and in December 2004 set up a unit dedicated to this issue within the Department of Labor. The unit administers a fund supporting employer and union initiatives to promote pay and employment equity and accepted its first round of applications from May to July.
The law provides specific safeguards for children's rights and protection. The government demonstrated its commitment to children's rights and welfare through its well-funded systems of public education and medical care. The government provides 14 weeks of government-funded, paid parental leave to care for children born after December 1. The office of the commissioner for children played a key role in monitoring violence and abuse against children.
The law provides for compulsory, free, and universal education through age 16, and the government effectively enforced the law. As of July 2004 on average 99 percent of children age 6 to 16 were enrolled in formal education. The government provided free health care to all children under age five.
Child abuse continued to be of concern to the government. The government promoted information sharing between the courts and health and child protection agencies to identify children at risk of abuse. During the calendar year there were 26,765 applications to Family Court under the Guardianship Act and 8,688 applications under the Domestic Violence Act. There were 318 convictions involving assaults on children in the 12-month period ending June 30. Of those convicted, 144 were Maori, 83 were of European decent, 64 were Pacific Islanders, 14 were members of other ethnic groups, and the ethnicity of 13 was unknown.
Commercial sexual exploitation of children remained a problem (see section 5, Trafficking).
The Department of Internal Affairs' Censorship Compliance Unit actively policed Internet child sex abuse images and prosecuted offenders. The government maintains extraterritorial jurisdiction over child sex offenses committed by the country's citizens abroad.
Trafficking in Persons
The law prohibits trafficking in persons, and there were no reports that persons were trafficked to or from the country. No new confirmed cases of internationally trafficked persons have been brought to the attention of the authorities since 2001, although there was evidence that some women from Asia, and more recently the Czech Republic and Brazil, were working illegally in the country as prostitutes. Although prostitution has been decriminalized (see section 5, Women), it remains illegal for nonresidents to work in the commercial sex industry.
The government has signed the relevant international instruments dealing with trafficking and has adopted tough domestic legislation to criminalize trafficking, with penalties of up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $349,650 (NZ$500 thousand). Laws against child sexual exploitation and slavery carry penalties of up to 14 years in prison. During the year the government began work on a national plan of action against trafficking in persons, due for completion in early 2006, addressing the areas of prevention, protection, prosecution, and victim reintegration.
Commercial sexual exploitation of children was a problem. Under the Prostitution Reform Act, it is illegal to use a person under 18 years of age in prostitution. A study by the PLRC completed in April 2004 estimated that approximately 200 young persons under the age of 18 were working as prostitutes. During the year 3 brothel operators and 1 client were prosecuted for the use of persons under age 18 in prostitution. The client and two of the brothel operators were convicted, and one operator was awaiting trial at year's end. The government worked with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to address trafficking in children and provided funding for NGO outreach programs in Auckland and Christchurch that provided accommodations and other support for young persons at risk for involvement in prostitution. The government had a national plan of action against the commercial exploitation of children developed in concert with NGOs and completed a progress review of the plan during the year; its report on the review was scheduled for release in 2006.
Shakti Migrant Services Trust, an antitrafficking NGO, reported abuses resulting from the immigration of Indian women for arranged marriages and provided services to abused women through four refuges located in three cities: Auckland, Christchurch, and Tauranga. In December the UN's special rapporteur on human trafficking, while on a private visit to the country, asserted in the press that although in many cases such groups as mail-order brides, migrant workers, foreign fishermen, and those in arranged marriages enter the country voluntarily, they could be at risk of losing their autonomy and becoming victims of trafficking.
An extensive infrastructure of government and NGO assistance programs was available to victims of trafficking.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, access to places and facilities, and the provision of goods, services, and accommodation. Compliance with access laws varied. The government is prohibited from discrimination on the basis of disability, mental or physical, unless such discrimination can be "demonstrably justified." Of the 7,344 inquiries and complaints that the HRC received during the 12-month period ending June 30, it received more complaints of discrimination based on disability than for any other type of discrimination (23.3 percent of all inquiries and complaints). In its action plan for human rights released in February, the HRC noted that persons with disabilities faced major barriers in obtaining and retaining employment and earning adequate income.
The government's Office for Disabled Issues worked to protect and promote the rights of persons with disabilities. In addition, during the year both the HRC and the Mental Health Commission continued to address mental health issues in their antidiscrimination efforts.
Pacific Islanders, who made up 6.5 percent of the population, experienced societal discrimination and accounted for approximately 11 percent of prison inmates and 17 percent of those serving community sentences. On July 29, the Department of Corrections launched its Pacific Strategy 2005-08, designed to reduce the crime rate and recidivism among Pacific Islanders through the use of culturally based techniques. Asians, who made up less than 5 percent of the population, also reported discrimination.
Approximately 15 percent of the population claimed at least 1 ancestor from the country's indigenous Maori or Moriori minorities. The law prohibits discrimination against the indigenous population; however, there was a continuing pattern of disproportionate numbers of Maori on unemployment and welfare rolls, in prison, among school dropouts, in infant mortality statistics, and among single-parent households. In November the special rapporteur on human rights and fundamental freedoms from the UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) visited the country at the government's invitation to obtain information on human rights related to treaty settlements, and indigenous economic, social and cultural rights in general. The rapporteur's report to the UNCHR was due in 2006.
On June 23, the coordinating minister for race relations completed a mandated review of government policies and programs to ensure that they were directed at persons in need, without racial bias. Of 49 policies and programs reviewed, the minister recommended changes to 20, and an additional 15 were under further review for possible revision. Recommended changes involved widening program eligibility to include all groups in need and improving program delivery of the desired results.
Maori continued to constitute half the prison population and 17 percent of persons serving community sentences. The government addressed the problem of recidivism among Maori through Maori focus units and special cultural assessments of Maori offenders.
Government policy recognized a special role for indigenous people and their traditional values and customs, including cultural and environmental issues that affected commercial development. The Ministry of Maori Development, in cooperation with several Maori NGOs, sought to improve the status of indigenous people. A special tribunal established in 1975 continued to hear Maori tribal claims to land and other natural resources stemming from the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi.
In November 2004 legislation was enacted that regulates ownership of the foreshore (the land between high and low tide) and the seabed. The law grants ownership of the foreshore and seabed to the state and provides for universal public access. It also established a mechanism to accommodate customary indigenous rights of land use, including preservation of existing fishing rights. This legislation was the focus of protests by Maori groups asserting customary title to the land and by non-Maori groups opposing such claims. Concerns about the impact of the legislation on Maori customary rights resulted in the 2004 resignation of Labor Party member of Parliament Tariana Turia, who then helped to found the Maori Party (see section 3).
6. Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The law provides workers the right to form and join organizations of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements, and workers exercised this right in practice. Nearly all unionized workers were members of the Council of Trade Unions, a federation that included unions representing various trades and locations. A few small, independent labor unions also existed. Unions represented approximately 22 percent of all wage earners.
Labor organization was rudimentary in the territory of Tokelau (population 1,500) and in the Freely Associated State of Niue (population 1,700). In the more developed Associated State of the Cook Islands (population 19 thousand), most workers in the public sector, the major employer, belonged to the Cook Islands Workers' Association, an independent local union. Industrial relations in the Cook Islands are governed by a simplified version of national legislation.
The law prohibits uniformed members of the armed forces from organizing unions and bargaining collectively. Sworn police officers (which includes all uniformed and plainclothes police but excludes clerical and support staff) are barred from striking or taking any form of industrial action. However, police have freedom of association and the right to organize and to bargain collectively. Disputes that cannot be settled by negotiation between the police association and management are subject to compulsory, final-offer arbitration.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The law provides for the right of workers to organize and contract collectively, and workers exercised this right in practice.
The Employment Relations Act governs industrial relations and promotes collective bargaining. In order to bargain collectively, unions must be registered, be governed by democratic rules, be independent, and have at least 15 members. Unions may not bargain collectively on social or political issues.
There were a number of strikes during the year. The Council of Trade Unions reported 31 work stoppages for the year through mid-August. During the 12-month period ending June 30, 41 work stoppages ended and 4 were ongoing.
There are no special laws or exemptions from regular labor laws in export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children. Inspection and legal penalties ensured respect for provisions against forced labor. There were no reports of the involuntary detention of women involved in prostitution and no reports that foreign commercial sex workers had their passports held by employers until bonds were repaid.
d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
Department of Labor inspectors effectively enforced a ban on the employment of children under the age of 15 in manufacturing, mining, and forestry. Children under age 16 may not work between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. By law children enrolled in school may not be employed, even outside school hours, if such employment would interfere with their education.
There were reports of children involved in the commercial sex industry (see section 5).
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
A 40-hour workweek is traditional. There are legal limits regarding hours worked. There is premium pay for overtime work. The law does not provide specifically for a 24-hour rest period weekly; however, management and labor have accepted the practice, and it was the norm. The law provides for a minimum 3-week annual paid vacation and 11 paid public holidays. The minimum wage was approximately $6.65 (NZ$9.50). Combined with other regularly provided entitlements and welfare benefits for low-income earners, this wage generally was adequate to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. There was a separate youth minimum wage of approximately $5.32 (NZ$7.60) for younger workers (ages 16 to 17). A majority of the work force earned more than the minimum wage.
Raising the minimum wage was a significant campaign issue during the September general election. Both the New Zealand First and the Green parties concluded agreements with the government to continue annual increases in the minimum wage with a target of $8.40 (NZ$12.00) by the end of 2008, economic conditions permitting.
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. Workers have the legal right to strike over health and safety issues, as well as the right to withdraw from a dangerous work situation without jeopardy to continued employment. Department of Labor inspectors effectively enforced safety and health rules, and they had the power to shut down equipment if necessary. The Department of Labor normally investigated reports of unsafe or unhealthy working conditions within 24 hours of notification.