Economy  |  Taxation  |  Labour Market  |  Finding Work  |  Hours of work and holidays  |  Rates of pay


New Zealand has a competitive, stable, market-oriented mixed economy which is heavily driven by overseas trade. A highly efficient and technologically innovative agricultural sector produces more than half of the country’s exported goods (including dairy, meat, wool, wood and horticultural products), with dairy products the largest single export earner. Demand for forestry products, particularly logs, has soared over the last year particularly in China, and this increase is expected to continue. 

Specialised manufacturing (including organic chemicals, pharmaceutical products, plastic products, rubber products, leather, textiles, paper and paper-associated products, furniture, electrical equipment and marine equipment) makes up around 20 per cent of exports, and New Zealand also exports plants and flowers, grass and other seeds, coal, industrial raw materials and metal, fruit and nuts, raw hides and skins.  Tourism and mining are also significant contributors to the economy.

New Zealand’s key trading partners are Australia, China, the United States, Japan and the United Kingdom. New Zealand’s fastest growing major export markets at the end of 2009 were China (43 percent), Singapore (28 percent), Egypt (25 percent), United Arab Emirates (18 percent), and India (16 percent). For more information on New Zealand’s exports and export markets, visit the Doing Business With New Zealand website.

New Zealanders have had to find ways to use our country’s small size and geographical distance from the rest of the world to our advantage, with the result that New Zealanders are now renowned as innovators and world leaders in many fields - from information and communication technologies, to biotechnology and agricultural technology, to creative industries like film production. For more information on New Zealand’s innovative industries, visit the Doing Business With New Zealand website.

New Zealand’s largest imports are refined and crude oil, cars, aircraft and electronic goods – telephones, televisions and computers.

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New Zealand has one of the lowest income tax burdens of all OECD countries. In 2009, the average tax wedge was below the OECD average for all households. The tax wedge is 18 percentage points below the OECD average for single taxpayers earning the average wage; only Mexico taxes single taxpayers with average earnings at even lower rates. Whether you’re a permanent resident or just in the country temporarily, all personal and business income in New Zealand is taxed by the New Zealand Government and is collected at a national level by the Inland Revenue Department (IRD).

From 1 October 2010, New Zealand’s top income tax rate will be lowered (for those earning above $70,000 per year) from 38 per cent to 33 per cent, while the lowest rate will drop from 12.5 to 10.5 per cent. The lower rates are aimed at stimulating productivity in the economy, and mean that people earning the average wage in New Zealand will soon pay lower effective tax rates than people in Australia and the United Kingdom.

On 1 October 2010, New Zealand’s corporate income tax rate will also reduce from 30 per cent to 28 per cent.  However, from 1 October 2010 goods and services will also be taxed in New Zealand at a rate of 15 per cent (known as “GST”).

There is no capital gains tax in New Zealand, although certain "gains" such as profits on the sale of patent rights are deemed to be income.  Home owners pay property taxes (rates) which are managed and collected by local councils.

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Labour market

Compared with other OECD countries, New Zealand has an above-average employment rate, even in the current economic climate. In August 2010, unemployment was sitting at 6.8 percent. This compared with 9.6 per cent in the United States (not seasonally adjusted), 7.8 per cent in the United Kingdom (including Ireland at 13.3%), 7.9% in Canada and 9.7% in the European Union. 

The likely growth areas for jobs in New Zealand are construction (assuming migration continues at current levels), and hospitality and tourism, particularly toward the end of 2010 and heading into the Rugby World Cup, which will be held in New Zealand in 2011.

There are some job areas where the New Zealand Government is actively seeking skilled workers from overseas. See our country’s Long Term Skill Shortage List and Immediate Skill Shortage List.

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Finding work

New Zealanders generally have a strong work ethic. New Zealand employers tend to place high value on employees who take the initiative, show a “can-do” and creative attitude and are team players. This can be especially true in small to medium-sized businesses (which make up over 90 per cent of all New Zealand businesses) where job descriptions might be fairly broad-ranging.

Employers are generally looking for well-qualified, experienced workers. It may take several months for you to find and be accepted for a job, and you may need to be prepared to look outside of your area of expertise, or accept a more junior position initially in order to gain experience in the New Zealand setting.

New Zealand employers tend to prefer succinct CVs that clearly align your key skills and experience with those skills that are required for the position, rather than just a chronological list of your previous jobs. Work and Income NZ provides a good CV guide with some handy examples.

New Zealanders tend to prefer informality at work and play. People are generally called by their first names in the workplace, and it’s common to mix socially with work colleagues.

New Zealand has traditionally had a strong social welfare system which supports those who find themselves out of work. In recent decades this has undergone reform, but the state continues to provide a level of financial support to those who for different reasons are unable to work.

New Zealand’s official languages are English and Māori. Most business in New Zealand is done in English, and most organisations expect you to be competent in spoken and written English. Jobs are generally advertised through newspaper advertisements and job search websites – two of the largest are Seek and Trade Me . Recruitment agencies are also a very helpful resource: most offer free registration for job seekers, and as well as arranging interviews they can offer advice, help you update your CV (curriculum vitae or resume) and help you prepare for an interview. For a comprehensive list of job vacancy and recruitment agency websites in New Zealand, see Career Services.

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Hours of work and holidays
The average New Zealander works 35-40 hours per week. Employers are required by law to offer a minimum of four weeks annual leave a year, on top of New Zealand’s 11 national holiday days.  In New Zealand,all employees must have a written employment agreement – which you can negotiate inpidually or as part of a collective. Either way, certain provisions must be included by law and be met, regardless of whether they are included in the agreement. Many offices close for up to two weeks over the Christmas and New Year period, and employers may ask you to take some of your annual leave at this time. 

Increasingly, New Zealanders want to achieve a better work/life balance. After all, why live in paradise if you never get to enjoy it? This change in values is increasingly being reflected in Government and employer policies that offer more flexible work conditions including paid parental leave for new parents and increasing openness to part-time, job share and work-from-home arrangements. 

The Employment Relations (Flexible Working Arrangements) Act, which came into effect on 1 July 2008, provides guidelines to both employers and employees in relation to more flexible working arrangements. Under the Act, employees can propose changes to their work environment, including the place they work, the hours and the days.

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Rates of pay

In New Zealand workers are entitled to earn at least the minimum wage as set by law. This is currently $12.75 per hour. The minimum hourly wage for those in training and for new entrants is $10.20 an hour. 

According to Statistics New Zealand, at the end of 2009 the average New Zealand male employee worked 38.0 hours per week (plus 1.1 hours paid overtime) and earned NZ$1,054 per week, while the average New Zealand female employee worked 35.6 hours per week with an additional 0.5 hours paid overtime to earn $847 per week.  The average hourly rate in New Zealand’s public (or government) sector was $32.36, while in New Zealand’s private sector the average was $23.48. The highest earners were those working in the finance / insurance and information / telecommunications sectors. The average salary for New Zealand tertiary graduates is between $45,000 and $48,000, although starting salaries will usually be lower than this. 

Salaries vary depending on the industry and company. You can search for average salaries on New Zealand’s Career Services website and use the XE Universal Currency Converter to get current exchange rates.  The ENZ New Zealand Jobs Situation Guide also provides some helpful information on typical hourly wages and salary rates for different jobs. 

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