Former Gloriavale members win Employment Court case

Former Gloriavale members win Employment Court case
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Three Gloriavale leavers have been classified as employees after an Employment Court ruling on Tuesday. 

Chief Judge Christina Inglis released her reserved decision into whether the leavers were employees of the West Coast Christian community or not. 

The Labour Inspectorate had previously classified the workers at Gloriavale as volunteers, however, today's ruling has proved that wrong. 

The former members were Hosea Courage, Levi Courage and Daniel Pilgrim, who were all born in Gloriavale. 

During a hearing in February, Courage said he was hit with a shovel handle and denied food for not working fast enough as a six-year-old.

In her decision on Tuesday,  Judge Inglis found the leavers were in fact employees from the age of six until they left Gloriavale. 

"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 judge said in a media release.

She said the plaintiffs worked regularly and for long hours "primarily for the benefit of Gloriavale's commercial operations". 

In exchange, the workers gained the necessities of life and the ability to remain in the community but the work was strictly controlled, the judge said. 

She noted the work undertaken by the plaintiffs as children couldn't be considered "chores" because of the commercial nature of the activities, the extended period of time they were performed over 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," Judge Inglis said. 

The work when they were 15, and required to be in school, couldn't be considered volunteering or educational work experience either, she said. 

"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."

She said the plaintiffs signed agreements labelling them as "associate partners" at 16 but they did not understand what they were signing and didn't have the capacity, because of their age, to be in the 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," she said.