14 Feb 2023

Employment relationship in 'direct conflict with our religious beliefs' - Gloriavale member

6:59 pm on 14 February 2023
Gloriavale Christian Community

Photo: Google Maps

Employment relationships at Gloriavale would be in direct conflict with the Christian community's religious beliefs, a founding member says.

Serenity Valor told an Employment Court hearing Gloriavale had no intention of denying people their legal rights and the community believed it was complying with New Zealand law.

Members' lives were devoted to sharing and giving, she said.

"We are a community who have chosen to live as we believe Christians should. An employment relationship is in direct conflict with our religious beliefs. Our people work to do what needs to be done," she said.

Valor said Gloriavale had been scrutinised by a number of government agencies over several years and had always worked to ensure the community complied with New Zealand law and met its legal obligations.

"There have been two separate investigations by the Labour Inspectorate which both confirm our people are not employees. We continued on this basis, believing we were complying with New Zealand law.

"There has never been any intention to deny our people their legal rights."

Six former Gloriavale women - Serenity Pilgrim, Anna Courage, Rose Standtrue, Crystal Loyal, Pearl Valor and Virginia Courage - are seeking a ruling they were employees, not volunteers, living in "slave-like conditions" at the commune.

Under cross-examination from the women's barrister Brian Henry, Serenity Valor said she would not be concerned if members took two 10 minute breaks, a 30 minute meal break, 12 annual public holidays and four weeks' annual leave.

"I've just taken you through all the consequences of being an employee, and you're telling her honour there are no problems?" Henry asked.

"No, there are no problems. However, if I wanted to gift my time and volunteer my services I don't see any reason why I shouldn't be allowed to," Valor said.

"Our beliefs are to give. If I'm paid for giving, I don't think that's fair. If I want to give, if I want to volunteer... then I don't see why I should be paid for it."

Valor's family joined the religious community when it was at Springbank in Canterbury and she was in her late 20s when the sect moved to Haupiri.

The court has heard evidence women and girls felt trapped at Gloriavale, and those who eventually left were shunned.

Valor said she was in regular contact with her brother and sister on the outside, and her 83-year-old father who left Gloriavale a couple of years ago.

"I do not agree that the access to former members of the community is controlled or that they are shunned," she said.

"He lives near the community and my sister and/or I visit him every week. There has never been any pressure put on me not to visit or not to contact him. If he wants to visit me, or the rest of our family, that could be arranged."

Gloriavale mother of seven Priscilla Stedfast earlier told the court she could not envisage how employment contracts would work at Gloriavale.

"Writing down times for starts and finishes and everything just seems like a very complicated thing when I want to give, I want to love and share," she said.

"I'm not sure how you'd draw the line."

Stedfast, who is Gloriavale founder Hopeful Christian's granddaughter, said she worked for her family and friends and loved making biscuits for the whole community with her children.

"If our kitchen was classed as a commercial enterprise I'd see the ability to be able to do that being taken away from me and my children. I want to teach them that love is about giving to others," she said.

"Having an employment relationship seems quite a complicated way to do it."

Stedfast earlier conceded under cross examination that women and girls worked long hours at Gloriavale.

"I won't deny we work hard. I won't deny that we worked long hours," she said.

"That's part of my faith. I've always loved to give and help my family, my friends' families, that's just part of my life.

"There were no Saturdays off then. Sundays were usually off."

Former members have testified that victim blaming and shaming was standard at Gloriavale.

Stedfast also conceded women and girls were sometime forced to apologise in front of the whole community for being late for duties or making mistakes.

"I do remember a short time where girls did stand up and apologise for things," she said.

"To say it is normal is misleading because to me, something that happens for six months or even a year in a 50-year existence is not normal and cannot be classed as a normal thing."

The practice of naming girls who over-slept on a public noticeboard was discontinued, Stedfast said.

"I think they would feel shameful about it. I don't think the purpose was just to make them feel shameful, it was to actually try and help them," she said.

"It was only done for a short time and I think it was stopped for those reasons."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs