Employment Musings Pre-Trial

Opinion Piece by Liz Gregory

Gloriavale and the Govt and some ex-members of Gloriavale will be heading to the Employment Court later this month, to establish whether 3 young men were employees or volunteers.

Lots of leavers have been ringing in discussing the case and the concepts that will likely be worked through. Here are some brief musings:

It’s a legal problem. The employment relationship is not specified in any of Gloriavale’s paperwork and people sign documents saying they will join a partnership (which is not part of MBIE’s mandate). MBIE only deals with employment issues, and the last time they looked they failed to make the connection because they couldn’t see the employment indicators. We assert that’s because they are exploited employees and the protections that should have been in place were not there  – contracts, holidays, sick pay, appropriate remuneration, working conditions etc.

But there are other ways of looking at this. How about elimination:

Are they self-employed? Definitely not. They don’t tick 98% of the criteria for that. To be self-employed you need to be the decision maker and bear the consequences. You choose who you work for, when and where a and how and whether you take breaks and holidays. This does not describe the workers at Gloriavale.

Are they volunteers? Well inside GV some people are considered volunteers and are told that is their status. Except it’s not voluntary in the usual way we would expect. They can’t chose where they volunteer, how they volunteer, who they volunteer under, and when they volunteer etc. And if they don’t do their “work” then they are under emotional pressure (not called community-minded, possibly humiliated, taken to a meeting etc). So under threats of losing your house and wife and your salvation, you obey and submit. So being a volunteer is off the table.

So that leaves contractors and partnerships etc. Which you can see throws up other issues. These kinds of workers all get to make their own decisions. And these kinds of scenarios don’t come under MBIE’s jurisdiction.

Why did people inside sign partnership agreements? Well, they didn’t really have true choice. When choices are made for you, when you didn’t have self-autonomy and self-determination, you just do as you are told (from birth). You have threats of hell and of being thrown out from the only life you have known if you buck the system (plenty of evidence there).

To say there is no evidence of coercion and that people get independent legal advice is simply incorrect. I know leavers spoke to MBIE about that. Any advice people got was paid for and organised by Gloriavale. Some people were under pressure to do so, and actually told the lawyers about their distress while signing it.

MBIE have clearly chosen to downplay that issue. Except that IS the issue!!

Leavers tell us of exploitation and in retrospect they can now see they were in some form of servitude, bound by signing documents they felt they had no choice to sign due to the culture. These are serious claims. Let’s see if the Employment Court can make a common sense ruling.

Let’s stop kidding ourselves. Workers at Gloriavale are not volunteers.