9 Dec 2023

Gloriavale's bid to appeal employment ruling largely fails

10:54 am on 9 December 2023
(From left to right) Crystal Loyal, Virginia Courage, Serenity Pilgrim, Anna Courage, Rose Standtrue and Pearl Valor

(From left to right) Crystal Loyal, Virginia Courage, Serenity Pilgrim, Anna Courage, Rose Standtrue and Pearl Valor. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Gloriavale's bid to appeal against a ruling that six former members were Christian community employees rather than volunteers has been largely dismissed by the Court of Appeal.

Chief Employment Court judge Christina Inglis found the women worked extremely hard under punishing conditions for years on end, in a July decision which entitled them to employment law protections.

Gloriavale's leaders sought leave to appeal the decision but the Court of Appeal has declined leave on the four questions of law they identified and invited submissions on a further two.

Serenity Pilgrim, Anna Courage, Rose Standtrue, Crystal Loyal, Pearl Valor and Virginia Courage were born into the West Coast community and began working as children.

They worked full time when they left school at the age of about 15.

Judge Inglis ruled the women were employees while working on Gloriavale's domestic teams, after being primed for the job and taught from birth to submit to male leadership in all aspects of their lives.

The Gloriavale compound on the West Coast.

The Gloriavale compound on the West Coast. Photo: RNZ / Jean Edwards

The women were responsible for preparing food, cooking, cleaning and doing the laundry for Gloriavale's 600 members, arguing they worked in an all-pervading regime of secular and religious control.

Inglis ruled the women were not volunteers, but rewarded for their work through being allowed to remain in the community, receiving the necessities of life, religious support and guidance, and the promise of spiritual redemption.

She found that an employment relationship existed but left the identity of the employer for later decision because Gloriavale's legal and operational structures were complex, requiring further evidence and analysis.

In a judgment released on Friday, the Court of Appeal said there were two "narrower questions of law" that could have wider significance for religious or volunteer organisations and invited submissions from lawyers.

The women's barrister, Brian Henry, said they were delighted the appeal court had essentially upheld the Employment Court decision.

Brian Henry

The women's barrister, Brian Henry, says he is delighted with the Court of Appeal's move. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

The two new questions raised issues about categorising Gloriavale as a religious organisation, Henry said.

"It is not directly relevant to the Employment Court trial but we have argued from the outset that this secretive community is not a religion but a cult; it uses children, women, the vulnerable. It is based on unusual sexual behaviour by its leaders," he said.

"The Court of Appeal decision to consider further submissions associated to the relationships between people and organisations is of significance to genuine religious and voluntary groups, groups which are hopefully very different to this community."

Community leaders did not seek leave to appeal a similar Employment Court decision last year, which found three former Gloriavale men were employees from the age of six, working long hours on farms and in factories at Haupiri.

Henry said the legal team was still working on the case.

"We look forward to a decision that helps young children entrapped and forced to work as child labour; that is our goal."

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