Former Gloriavale members believed to be seeking millions in compensation

Jean Edwards for RNZ

A group of nine former Gloriavale members found to have been employees have lodged an Employment Relations Authority claim against the Christian community for lost wages and compensation believed to total $5.2 million.

Supporters of the six women and three men are calling for other leavers and current members in the same situation to join a wider claim for entitlements that RNZ understands could ultimately top $20 million.

It is the first time a dollar-figure has emerged quantifying the amount Gloriavale could owe the plaintiffs in two landmark Employment Court cases, as they seek payment for lost wages, breach of minimum entitlements, compensation and penalties.

The court's chief judge Christina Inglis found the men and women were employees, rather than community volunteers, working in factories and on farms or Gloriavale's domestic teams.

Last July Inglis found Serenity Pilgrim, Anna Courage, Rose Standtrue, Crystal Loyal, Pearl Valor and Virginia Courage worked extremely hard under punishing conditions for years on end preparing food, cooking, cleaning and doing the laundry for Gloriavale's 600 members.

She said the women were primed as girls to to work on the teams and taught from birth to submit to male leadership in all aspects of their lives.

In an earlier 2022 ruling, Inglis found Hosea Courage, Daniel Pilgrim and Levi Courage were employees from the age of six until they left Gloriavale, working long hours doing strenuous, difficult and sometimes dangerous work when they were still legally required to be at school.

Inglis ruled the women's employer was Gloriavale's Overseeing Shepherd in a reserved decision released last month, meaning former employees could seek back pay and compensation from the community's current leader Howard Temple.

The identity of the men's employer is yet to be determined.

Although the claims to entitlements must first be filed with the Employment Relations Authority (ERA), they could be heard by the court. The parties would likely be directed to mediation.

An ERA spokesperson said the authority could not comment on specific cases.

In a 2022 ruling, Inglis found Hosea Courage (L), Daniel Pilgrim (R) and Levi Courage (not pictured) were employees from the age of six until they left Gloriavale.
In a 2022 ruling, Inglis found Hosea Courage (L), Daniel Pilgrim (R) and Levi Courage (not pictured) were employees from the age of six until they left Gloriavale. Photo credit: RNZ

The Gloriavale Leavers' Support Trust has made a public appeal for people who lived and worked at Springbank or Gloriavale to get in contact in order to share information about employment issues, including those who came and went as an adult and were not born there.

The trust also wants to hear from work teams and students from overseas who stayed for weeks or months.

Gloriavale's bid to appeal against the Employment Court's declaration that the women were employees was largely dismissed by the Court of Appeal in a judgement delivered last month.

However, the appeal court invited submissions on whether leave should be granted on two narrow questions of law that could have wider significance for religious or volunteer organisations.

A Gloriavale spokesperson declined to comment on the ERA claim because of the ongoing legal proceedings. The Christian community has consistently denied the plaintiffs were ever employees.

According to its last annual return to Charities Services, Gloriavale's net assets were worth $46 million in 2022, although the leavers' lawyers believe the community is worth around $65 million.

Last year Gloriavale members told the Employment Court the community could not afford to pay everyone wages and employment relationships would destroy their Christian way of life.

However chief judge Christina Inglis noted the court was not concerned with the merits of Gloriavale's way of life or religious underpinnings and the community's financial situation, including its extensive acquisition of additional property, did not sit well with a claimed lack of capacity to pay for women's work.

Overseeing Shepherd Howard Temple is currently facing 27 charges of sexual offending against 10 girls, over a period of more than 20 years.

He has pleaded not guilty to 14 charges of indecent assault and 13 of doing an indecent act and elected a judge-alone trial.