A quick introduction to working for accommodation and food in New Zealand
Working for food and accommodation in New Zealand is commonly known to New Zealanders as “WWOOFing” or “Woofing”. This is because the term was originally coined from the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) organisation where workers could work on an organic farm in exchange for food and accommodation. While this is still a common practice in New Zealand and a popular experience among backpackers (see Everything You Need to Know About WWOOFing in New Zealand), the term is now used for any type of work in exchange for food and accommodation. This could be working in a hostel or other types of commercial accommodation, house-sitting, babysitting, doing house chores and more.The common deal most workers and WWOOFing hosts make is for the worker to do 2-4 hours of work per day for five days a week in exchange for accommodation and three meals per day. There are variations of these hours, for instance, you can work more hours in a day for an extra day off. We’ll go more into detail on your rights when working for food and accommodation below.
What visa do you need to work for accommodation and food in New Zealand?
First things first, can you legally work for food and accommodation in New Zealand? To do work in exchange for any kind of reward in New Zealand you need to have a valid work visa. The most common visa people get while travelling in New Zealand is a working holiday visa. However, any other work visa is usually valid too. The work conditions are made very clear when you receive your visa.For more information on the working holiday visa, seeWhat is a Working Holiday Visa?
Can you work for accommodation on a visitor visa?
If you are in New Zealand on a visitor visa, you cannot legally work for accommodation and food. If caught, your hosts could be faced with charges. Inspections on work for accommodation hosts have become more and more frequent over the years.
What are your rights to working for accommodation and food?
What is the value of your work?
The most important thing to note is that the value of the accommodation and food should not be lower than the value of your work at minimum wage. The minimum wage in New Zealand is NZ$17.70 per hour. So for example, if you work for accommodation for two hours per day at a minimum wage of NZ$17.70, your reward must be of a minimum value of NZ$35.40.For more information on what you should be getting paid, see the Employment New Zealand website.
The choice of accommodation or a paid wage
Before you start working with your host, you must be offered a choice of either work for a selected amount of hours in exchange for food and accommodation or paid at least minimum wage. Under New Zealand law, you are entitled to a full wage with only 15% deduction for food and accommodation for your labour, unless you and your host have both agreed on a fair contract. See more about that in the section below.
Do you need a contract to work for accommodation and food?
Not only is a contract for work for accommodation and food a legal requirement in New Zealand, but it’s also a good idea so that both you and your hosts have the same understanding. Under New Zealand law, you need to have a proper work contract when doing work in exchange for accommodation and food. Expect work for accommodation contracts to be short and concise. They might not look like much, but they display a fair working agreement for both you and your host.When offered a contract, you should be aware of two main terms:Board: Accommodation + threemeals a dayLodging: AccommodationThe contract must also display that you have the option to either work for “board” or be paid a stated wage. The contract must also state how many average hours you will be expected to work. For example, your work for accommodation and food contract could include a section like this:The first two hours of work each day are to be compensated by: (Check your chosen option) Board: Private room plus threedaily meals (valued at NZ$45.00), or Hourly wage of NZ$16.50
Do you need to pay taxes when working for accommodation and food?
You do not need to pay taxes when working for only accommodation and food. You only pay income tax if you are being paid a wage.However, your host will have to pay Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYE) and Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) taxes on the value of your accommodation and meals, as well as the Goods and Services Tax (GST) on the accommodation provided. For you, this means you are a well-protected employee with benefits of accident medical cover under the ACC. Learn more about ACC in What is ACC and Employee Accident Cover?.
What rewards can you accept when working for accommodation and food?
Can you accept cash?
Yes, you can receive cash for your work as long as your host declares it properly so that it can be taxed. If not, then it is considered being given cash “under the table” which is illegal and both you and your host could be taken to court.
Can you accept other rewards?
Sure you can receive other rewards, whether it’s an activity or borrowing the car for the day or whatever. However, the reward should not be contingent on your work. This means that it’s offered to you as an extra “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 the car to borrow for a few hours” then it is considered as a reward for work and will be seen and treated under the same tax rules above.