Innovative Policy 2013 on Employment

New Zealand’s equal employment conditions

Many countries have regulations that exempt operators of sheltered workshops from general standards of labour protection. Positively, New Zealand removed the blanket exemption from minimum wage, holiday and sick leave requirements.

The Disabled Persons Employment Promotion Repeal Act
Founded on:2007
of origin
New Zealand
Beneficiaries targetedProviders having employment relationships with individuals employed in sheltered workshops. All persons with disabilities employed by affected providers.
Responsible bodyMinistry of Social Development
StakeholdersPublic and private sector


Disability is often used as an excuse for offering persons with disabilities employment under substandard conditions. Attempting to align its policy to the objectives promoted by the UN CRPD, New Zealand enacted in 2007 the Disabled Persons Employment Promotion (DPEP) Repeal Act No. 11 which revoked discriminatory provisions, under which operators of sheltered workshops were given a blanket exemption from minimum wage and holiday and sick leave legislation. Now all persons, including employees with disabilities of sheltered workshops, are entitled to the minimum wage, and holiday and sick leave benefits.


  • In 2001, approximately 5,400 people were employed in segregated work environments (paid below the minimum wage).
  • This number decreased to 1,202 in 2007 (not necessarily paid below the minimum wage), showing a steady declining trend.
  • The number of persons making use of employment services increased by more than 300% from 2003 to 2007 and, similarly, of all vocational services.
  • In 2007, 83% of people placed in open employment received the same wages as their non-disabled peers.
  • In addition, the proportion of services providing segregated employment that paid at least minimum wage all or most of the time increased from only 10% in 2004 to 60% in 2007.
© Cindy Johns, People First

© Cindy Johns, People First


Public participation
Disabled peoples’ organizations rallied for the act, enactment of which took five years of consultation.

The DPEP Repeal Act establishes that all people with disabilities have the same employment conditions, rights, and entitlements as others.

Legalizing employment relationships
The government helped both employers and employees with negotiating mutually acceptable written employment agreements.

Investing in employment services
Significant resources were mobilised to promote employment rights for people who attended sheltered workshops. Vocational service providers were encouraged to plan for the changes, labour inspectors were prepared for their new role and a Plain language employment agreement was developed.


In 2001, the government introduced the Disability Strategy, which set out a new approach to disability issues, aiming to provide people with disabilities with the same opportunities as others to participate in training and employment, and with fair remuneration. The Disabled Persons Employment Promotion Act No. 42 of 1960, embodying out-dated concepts about people with disabilities, contradicted these goals. It gave operators of sheltered workshops a blanket exemption from minimum wage, holiday and sick leave legislation, thus establishing different employment conditions for employees of sheltered workshops. Disability organizations rallied for the repeal of the act and after several years of consultation with service providers, users and stakeholder groups about the bill tabled in 2004, the act was finally revoked in 2007, by the Disabled Persons Employment Promotion Repeal Act No. 11. With the act’s withdrawal, all persons with disabilities, including people working in sheltered workshops, were entitled to all standard employment minima. At the same time, however, families who were concerned that their children with high support needs would be excluded from any employment, advocated that, under certain conditions, minimum wage exemptions should be issued on an individual basis. This transitional provision was introduced by an amendment to the Minimum Wage Act of 1983 and its existence and implementation remain contentious.

«The Repeal Act of 2007 was a fundamental step to significantly re-orient persons with disabilities away from segregated work environments towards open employment.»

Trish Grant, Director of Advocacy, IHC New Zealand Inc


The Disabled Persons Employment Promotion Repeal Act No. 11 of 2007 established that all operators of sheltered workshops had to meet all employment standards for any employment relationship, foremost the Minimum Wage Act 1983 and the Holidays Act 2003, in addition to the Employment Relations Act 2000 and the Health and Safety in Employment Amendment Act 2002 that already applied. As, in practice, not all providers had written agreements with the people they employed, both employers and employees received guidance and assistance with negotiating mutually acceptable written employment agreements. In addition, the government committed approximately $44 million over four years to improve the quantity and quality of vocational services available.


The discriminatory provision of the Minimum Wage Act of 1983 under which Labour Inspectors may issue a minimum wage exemption permit to a worker, if the worker is significantly limited by a disability, all reasonable accommodations have been provided and it is reasonable to grant the permit, has always been seen as transitional and needs to be reviewed as soon as possible. As well, its implementation is problematic, as the determination of minimum wage rates is inconsistent, the process lacks transparency and the result is very low rates of pay for most workers who are exempted.


Ms. Trish GRANT
Director of Advocacy, IHC New Zealand Inc
+64 44 95 27 73

Ms. Sue O’SHEA
Principal Advisor Equal Employment Opportunity, Human Rights Commission
+64 4 496 9774


Disabled Persons Employment Promotion Repeal Act No. 11 of 2007, available at:

Human Rights Commission, Tracking Equality at Work for Disabled Persons, 2011, available at:

The documentation about the three readings in Parliament of both the repeal of the DPEP Act 1960 and the adoption of the Minimum Wage Amendment Act 2007, is available at:

Nominated by: Ms. Ingrid HEINDORF, World Future Council