The Employment Court has ruled that three members of the Gloriavale Christian community were employees.
From the age of 6 the three members worked long hours and under harsh conditions for the benefit of Gloriavale’s commercial businesses. The children were required to undertake jobs such as milking cows (starting at 3:30am or 4am), harvesting moss, cleaning out pig sties, working in the Community garden and in the honey business. At times the children were working more than 70 hours a week.
The Court found the activities the children were required to undertake were “strenuous, difficult and sometimes dangerous” work when they were still legally required to be at school. Their parents had no final say over where, when and how long the children worked for, and there was a significant power imbalance involved in the working relationship.
Section 6(1)(a) of the Employment Relations Act 2000 does not place a lower age limit on employee status . During the ages of 6-14, there was also no employment agreement however the Court asked what “inference (as to the real nature of the relationship) can reasonably be drawn from conduct”. The conduct of the parties pointed to an employment relationship existing.
The Court found the plaintiffs were employees at all ages (6-16+ years) of their working relationship and they were not doing chores or volunteering.
The plaintiffs also brought claims against the Labour Inspectorate. In 2017 and 2020 the Inspectorate investigated allegations of long working hours at Gloriavale. The Inspectorate found decided that the Gloriavale members were not employees and therefore the matters fell outside the Inspectorate’s jurisdiction.
The Inspectorate’s office has said they will now work with the plaintiffs to take forward enforcement action and calculate arrears owed. The plaintiffs could be entitled to thousands of dollars in backpay and entitlements they were not able to receive due to their incorrect employment status.