This week Labor Court Chief Justice Christina Inglis found that three former members of the West Coast community had been employed from the age of 6 until they left the organization in as young men. The three men had disputed the conclusion of the Labor Inspectorate, after carrying out a documentary review of the community in 2017 and an investigation in 2020-2021, that the residents were volunteers and not employees and therefore not protected by the New Zealand labor laws.
Justice Inglis said alarm bells should have been ringing even after a cursory reading of the community’s ‘What We Believe’ document and other documents seen by labor inspectors, as they clearly indicated where the able ; “that the leadership group wields absolute power and control, including with respect to work, and that members of the Community submit to the leadership; and that members should not report their concerns to outside bodies” .
The work that the children were required to do could not be classed among the chores that might normally be required of a child by the person caring for him. The court found that each of the plaintiffs was subjected to rigorous, sometimes violent, supervision in their work.
If they didn’t work hard enough or fast enough, they were beaten, and one complainant testified to being hit six times with a shovel handle, leaving bruises.
There were also cases of children being starved and publicly shamed if they were not seen as working hard enough.
Disobedience could also result in reprimands for hours by a group of leaders called shepherds and servants. Labor inspectors involved in the case suggested slavery-like working conditions would not be a problem for them, but rather something for WorkSafe or the police, but Judge Inglis said the fact that the criminal law provided a regime for those who sell slaves or forced labor does not mean that the employment jurisdiction has no role to play. The labor inspectorate is not the only one to have questions to answer.
Among the other agencies is the Education Review Office, which apparently gave its blessing to what was called a work experience program (when the children were 15 and still legally required to be in school ), but was actually transitioning to full-time work in the Gloriavale. companies.
Justice Inglis said that ERO’s satisfaction with the program should be viewed with great caution. Police said they would interview a significant number of people identified in relation to child employment issues and would also work with partner agencies.
But why did it take so long for some kind of joint action? Concerns about what is happening in this gated community have been aired in various parts of the media for years.
Did Oranga Tamariki, WorkSafe and the Inland Revenue Department act appropriately, or not at all, and did any of the agencies that should have taken an interest in what was happening there communicated properly between them about any concerns? Justice Inglis said that “the fact that work practices take place within a religious community with a particular vision of how it should operate and on the principles by which it will operate, does not mean that those work practices are beyond the reach of the law”.
Nor did it mean that these communities should escape the scrutiny of those who had the statutory power to determine what the reality of the situation was and how it fit within the relevant regulatory framework. While the judge was referring to labor jurisdiction, the gist of that message should be heard loud and clear by any other agency that might be tempted to turn a blind eye to what is happening in such organizations.