A major review into practices at the Gloriavale religious community has been ordered by the Minister of Workplace Relations.
A Government report, obtained by Newshub under the Official Information Act, talks of "oppressive psychological practices", possible exploitation and people being "bullied, manipulated or coerced".
The report was completed by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's (MBIE's) Labour Inspectorate in July 2017. But after the findings were made, nothing happened.
Gloriavale's residents are taught as children that the outside world is wicked and full of sin.
But the Labour Inspectorate report points out that it's the leaders whose behaviour is questionable.
Investigators noted an "extreme level of control" and concerns that residents were "bullied, manipulated or coerced" into signing documents.
"I cannot be sure as Minister that workers at Gloriavale are not being exploited and I want to be sure of that," Andrew Little, the Workplace Relations Minister, said.
Exploitation is exactly what the MBIE stated could be occurring in 2017.
However, it concluded the residents are "not employees" but rather that they’re volunteers and it couldn’t intervene. And so, it did nothing.
"I was certainly left uncomfortable with the conclusion that these were volunteer workers, because they don't look like [that]," Little said.
"I've asked officials to reconsider the report, to review it."
Men at Gloriavale work at dairy and deer farms, they manufacture honey and work in fishmeal plants. That's just a few of the commercial operations run by Gloriavale's Trust.
Residents sign various agreements. Trustees told MBIE that "everyone is a willing signatory", but that contradicts the testimony of 18 people who have left the community.
They told investigators of:
- "Documents being signed in ignorance"
- "Mass signings" were held
- There was "significant peer pressure"
- Legal advice "was not offered"
- Personal "bank accounts were emptied" by Trustees when people left.
"People don't have any idea of what money is coming in. It's all handled by somebody else and they don't have any control over what happens to it," said Melody Pilgrim, a former Gloriavale resident.
She says most women did "back breaking" hours in commercial kitchens and laundries.
"They're servants and slaves to the people there building their own kingdom."
- If you have more information, contact Michael Morrah in confidence by email: email@example.com
As for MBIE's 2017 conclusion that they're not employees - she thinks that's "ridiculous".
"Why is the Government and the agencies so slow to actually look into this? This is affecting people's lives. And if something isn't done about it, people will suffer and their children will suffer."
She wants action - and now.
The report was done in July 2017, when National was in charge and before Little came into office.
He was only aware of its existence last week, when Newshub broke the story about current members working 20-23 hour long shifts.
Minister Little was swift to order this review which will reexamine whether these people there are in fact just volunteers.
He says as part of it, he's asked the Labour Inspectorate to put in place a “specialised confidential liaison function”. This is to ensure current and former residents can talk freely to investigators.
"Any evidence collected will inform a review of the 'volunteer' determination from 2017", Little told Newshub.
A spokesperson for MBIE told Newshub it didn't have to inform Little of its report.
"There is no requirement to brief a new Minister on previous lines of inquiries of regulator operations," it said, "especially those which found no grounds under employment law to pursue any investigation."
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: firstname.lastname@example.org