Response to the Employment Court Judgement

By Liz Gregory (views expressed are hers alone)

Relief. Tears. Excitement.

These are a few of the responses when we heard the Employment Court judge had ruled in favour of the three men who left Gloriavale and who asked to be recognised an employees for the time they lived in there.

We heard that morning that the judgement was going to be given, and GLST staff, supporters and two of the plaintiffs drove to ChCh to be with the lawyers to hear the judgement. We weren’t quite going to make it in time, but it didn’t stop us having a celebration in the car! We arrived at Steve’s house so he could talk to the boys about the win. And what a win! In every category of age, the judge found the boys were employees. From six years old upwards. That was quite a categorical win.

We headed down to the courthouse, where a collection of media were waiting to get the reaction from the boys and lawyers. The phone went hot with leavers calling to digest the news. This was the day they were finally heard.

It’s no doubt a day many people will look back on and recognise as a massive turning point in Gloriavale’s history.

It had been a frustrating few years. Everyone knew something was wrong with the working life and conditions at Gloriavale. So why did it take a private groups of NZ citizens to take the Government to court, to do the job they should have found a simple task to do almost 7 years earlier?

I’m not sure there will ever be an answer to that.

“Occam’s razor” comes to mind. It’s pretty easy to understand.

“It says that other things being equal, simpler explanations are generally better than more complex ones. It is used everyday by scientists to choose between competing theories.”

There was a very simple explanation to the confusing elements that the Labour Inspectorate struggled to grasp. The people were living and working under a regime of control, akin to servitude and slavery. Employment Law can deal with these issues, and they should have.

Instead they choose to say it wasn’t part of their jurisdiction – and yet no one is certain they passed it off other agencies to deal with it (like the Police for Criminal prosecution). The Police and Oranga Tamariki also knew what the work environment was like for children. It was going on right under their noses, as they visited the community regularly, and heard from young people who lived there and who had left.

I have two levels of frustration. One is towards Gloriavale for being involved in exploitation of people, without much regard for the welfare of the individual. And the other is towards Government agencies who simply didn’t (or wouldn’t) put their hands up to sort it out.

Shame on them all.

This win for the Boys is only the first part of the court case. The judge now needs to rule on who the employer was (Shepherds? Business Directors? Charitable Trust?). Then the Govt will be in the stand to explain why they failed to act. And then there is the part about compensation. The Boys didn’t take this to court to receive compensation. They did it to improve the lives of their family members still inside, and to get acknowledgement that what went on in Gloriavale was not acceptable in NZ society. However the judge ruled that there are compensation issues that need to be dealt with.

The story gets bigger. This ruling applies to more than just the three plaintiffs. It extends to any other young men who lived in Gloriavale and who share a similar set of circumstances. That’s all the people who have left and all the ones who remain.

Yes… this is going to be a significant issue for Gloriavale, as they come to terms with paying out what might be millions of dollars in compensation.

And that doesn’t include any money owed to the ladies. Their court case will be heard in August 2022.

I sense this story is only going to get bigger and bigger.