Minimum Standards & Volunteers

General / 25 February 2017
Minimum Standards & Volunteers

In New Zealand volunteers are at the heart of many organisations from sporting clubs and schools to charitable organisations.  However, many businesses also have people performing unpaid work, including internships and work trials, and the law around this continues to develop.  A volunteer for the purposes of employment law is someone who not only doesn’t expect to be rewarded for work performed but also does not receive reward for carrying out the work.  More information is available here.

Recent media reports discussed the Labour Inspectorate investigation of South Island Robinwood Farms’ use of “volunteers”, known as WWOOFers (Willing Workers on Organic Farms), with over 1000 people, including a lot of backpackers, performing work for it each year.  The work often involved being hired out to cut firewood or do gardening, up to 40 hours a week, with profits going to Robinwood Farms.  In return they were paid $120 per week plus food and accommodation.

2017 saw a significant increase in Labour Inspectorate resources, and in investigation of to employers breaching minimum standards, either proactively or in response to complaints.  The risks in relation to employers failing to comply with minimum standards are significant.

While the Labour Inspectorate has yet to lay charges, Robinwood has been ordered to pay over $20,000 in unpaid wages and could be liable for up to $20,000 per breach should penalties be awarded, for breaches of minimum standards including, for example, payment for hours worked, annual holidays, sick and bereavement leave, record keeping and provision of employment agreements, all of which are required by law.

Cases like this are becoming more frequent, as we have discussed in recent articles here: and

What does this mean for you?
If you have people volunteering for you in return for rewards of any kind there is a real risk that these people are employees and therefore minimum standards will apply.  It is important to ensure you are categorising workers appropriately, should a “volunteer” arrangement be challenged by the person themselves, or a Labour Inspector.  Genuine volunteer arrangements should be appropriately documented, to manage the risk of challenge.

If you would like to discuss how this may impact you, please contact us.

Disclaimer: We remind you that while this article provides commentary on employment law and health and safety topics, it should not be used as a substitute for legal or professional advice for specific situations. Please seek legal advice from your lawyer for any questions specific to your workplace.

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