Worksafe inspectors look into Gloriavale over current members' claims of punishing work hours

Worksafe is sending a team of inspectors into Gloriavale- the secretive religious group on New Zealand's West Coast.

It follows Newshub's story on Thursday night, where two current members revealed their punishing work hours and controlling and threatening behaviour from their leaders. 

The two men risked everything to reveal what they say is the reality of life inside Gloriavale.

"It's just so wrong. You can't actually be free to what you believe and what you want to think because they just say it's wrong," the first member told Newshub.

They said the leaders - also known as Shepherds - control them, including the job they do and the hours they work. 

"You could work up to 20-23 hours. Sometimes you could go two whole days and you get some sleep but then you're expected to go straight back to work straight away because it's expected."

Asked whether they were forced to work those hours the first member responded, "In a nutshell, yes". 

On Friday, Worksafe announced they are looking into the allegations.

"Worksafe was not previously notified (by Gloriavale) of the concerns raised in Newshub's story, particularly the risk of fatigue from long working hours," they said in a statement.

"In light of these concerns, Worksafe will be undertaking a proactive assessment of any area of the Gloriavale community considered to be a workplace early next week."

Christchurch Barrister Kathryn Dalziel said, in her opinion, the situation described by the men could amount to slavery. 

"Yes is the short answer to the question - given the hours they are working [and] the fact they are not being paid - we don't endorse or encourage slavery in New Zealand and that can amount to slavery."

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), which investigates workplace exploitation and bullying, decided in 2017 that it has "no jurisdiction to intervene" at Gloriavale, as the workers are "not employees". 

Dalziel does not agree.

"[I'm] not entirely convinced they aren't employees because you have got to look at the real nature of the relationship," she told Newshub.

"And one of the things I think would be interesting to explore more is the work that the employees are doing and the purposes for it and whether or not Gloriavale is making some financial advantage out of it."

There was also unity from New Zealand's main political leaders Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins on the issue.

"Any place where someone isn't being treated in a way that looks after their rights, then yes I would be concerned about that, but that's not something I have been given much details on," Ardern said.

Judith Collins said she thinks it's "very clear that there is one law".

"I'd say if theses are concerns, genuine concerns which they obviously are, then the appropriate authorities should be taking steps."

An intervention is exactly what's happening after the members spoke to Newshub.

Worksafe's assessment next week will involve looking at documentation held by Gloriavale and interviewing both workers and any Gloriavale contractors to understand how risks are being managed. Inspectors arrive there Monday.

However, there remains real concern about the allegations of control and threats from Gloriavale's leaders. 

The men said they're threatened with being separated from their families if they disobey the leaders. So far, no one has stepped in to say they'll look at these issues. 

On Tuesday, Worksafe was at Gloriavale due to a completely separate incident in July, when a worker was overcome by fumes while cleaning a silo.

Worksafe says machine guarding improvements were identified and Gloriavale was told to fix the issue. No further action was taken. 

Worksafe Relations & Safety Minister, Andrew Little, has asked MBIE's Labour Inspectorate to review its 2017 investigation into Gloriavale. This will reconsider whether workers at Gloriavale are employees rather than volunteers. MBIE's original inquiry decided they were volunteers. 

If you have information relevant, contact the Labour Inspectorate's National Manager, Stu Lumsden: