Employment Court holds exploitation and child labour: a dark shadow for Gloriavale

May 10th, 2022 - Barbara Buckett


The New Zealand Employment Court has released its decision on whether the leadership “Shepherd” members of the Gloriavale Christian Community were employers. 

MBIE’s Labour Inspectorate had found twice that they were not employees, but the Employment Court found this to be wrong. How could the employment watchdog get it so wrong? Hopefully, the Inspectorate can now put right, the wrong it helped to perpetuate. 

It took courage for these individuals to bring these proceedings against the “Community” leaders who had exerted great power and control over these individuals, such as withholding food or other necessities of life, and publicly shaming them if they did not work or did not meet the work performance standards. Most disgustingly, if these children “were not working hard enough or fast enough they were hit” as “the blueness of the wound cleaneth away the sin”. 

Gloriavale Christian Community Members Found Employees By Employment Court.
Gloriavale Christian Community Members

The decision was inevitable and right. The “Community” leaders derive great commercial benefit from the labour of some of their most vulnerable young members. Child members work long arduous hours for no pay. Instead of paying these child workers, the work they perform provides a high financial commercial return for the “Community”, or more suitably phrased the Gloriavale business and leaders. 

Gloriavale is not just a self-sustaining Christian community. It is a highly complex commercial labyrinth network and enterprise, comprising trusts and companies, who operate various highly successful, multimillion dollar profit-making businesses. 

Courage, under whose name the proceedings were issued, gave evidence that he worked from the age of 6, for no pay.

Gloriavale denied they were employers, and the Labour Inspectorate backed this up, saying they were volunteers. Judge Inglis holds that loud alarm bells should have been ringing from even a cursory reading of the documents available to the Labour Inspectorate at the time. 

Inglis’ decision is the right decision. It not only appropriately denotes that Gloriavale leaders exploited these children, but will also now place the spotlight on and lift the lid on other types of work arrangements involving children such as newspaper outlets using children for deliveries etc. 

The contents of this article are purely the opinion of the writer. 

Read our other post on Gloriavale.

Gloriavale Employment Court Decision

The Chief Judge of the Employment Court (Chief Judge Christina Inglis) found that all three plaintiffs were employees from the age of six until they left Gloriavale.

The Employment Court reiterated that the question of whether someone is an employee depends on the substance of the relationship and how it operated in practice, rather than the label attached to the relationship or what one or other or both of the parties subjectively considered their relationship to be. The fact that the work was undertaken within a religious community, and according to a particular set of beliefs and values, did not mean that it could escape close scrutiny by external agencies or avoid minimum employment standards if they applied. The plaintiffs worked regularly and for long hours, primarily for the benefit of Gloriavale's commercial operations. The work was done for the reward of the necessities of life and the ability to remain in the Community. It was subject to strict control.

The work undertaken by the plaintiffs as children between the ages of six and 14 could not be described as "chores", including because of the commercial nature of the activities, because they were performed over an extended period of time and because they were strenuous, difficult, and sometimes dangerous. It was the Gloriavale leadership group which decided what child labour resources were required and where they were to be applied. Parents had little influence, and no final say, over where, when, and for how long their children worked.

The work undertaken when the plaintiffs were 15 (and still legally obliged to be at school) could not be described as an educational work experience or as volunteering. The label applied to this work was misleading and did not reflect the real nature of the work and the basis on which it was being done.

At the age of 16 the plaintiffs signed agreements labelling them as "Associate Partners". This label did not change the substance of the relationship and was viewed with scepticism – the plaintiffs did not understand what they were signing and nor did they have capacity, because of their age, to be part of a partnership. Further, the recording of time worked and the rate of pay reflected a degree of intention to comply with minimum employment entitlements.

Today's decision does not resolve all issues between the parties. Future judgments will focus on the issues of identifying which person or entity in Gloriavale's commercial structure is the employer/s and whether the Labour Inspector breached any statutory duty to the plaintiffs by the way it concluded its investigation.

Please contact Buckett Law for advice and assistance on how this effects you.

Note: BuckettLaw takes no responsibility for the consequences of any actions taken on the basis of our articles. Any views expressed or comments made in an article are the writers option only. The content in our articles does not constitute legal advice. If you need legal or expert advice you should obtain specific advice about your case or matter from a professional. For legal advice based on your individual situation please contact us to speak with one of our expert lawyers.

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Barbara Buckett

Barbara Buckett is a highly experienced senior employment lawyer with over 35 years of practice in New Zealand. She provides expert advice on all areas of employment law and has a proven track record of delivering excellent results for clients. Barbara has extensive experience in resolving workplace issues and is an experienced litigator. In her free time, she enjoys reading, traveling, working out, and fine wine and dining with friends.

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