They said what?

Opinion piece: Liz Gregory

Some days you read things which make your mouth drop open! That happened yesterday…

Gloriavale was in court yesterday, fighting Westland Milk products decision to stop collecting milk until they came up to NZ’s values and standards relating to employment. This came about after an Employment Court ruling in May 2022 accepted the plaintiffs evidence about their work on the farms and other businesses, and the judge designated them as employees. Those young fellows were still living and working there under 18 years of age, post 2017.

The Herald and Stuff reported on the case, and noted Gloriavale’s lawyer claimed that,

“No children had worked on the farms since at least 2017,” Raymond said.

What?! Wow! Backtrack. rewind…. Come again…

“No children had worked on the farms since at least 2017,” Raymond said.

Yes they actually said that in court. In another place their lawyer said that all workers at Canaan are over 18.

But it sits inside a huge body of evidence to the contrary. Namely the evidence accepted in the Employment Court hearing a few months ago. And just ask anyone who has left or who still lives in there. They will rattle off names of people under 18 who worked in these businesses. Every day…  It was normal. It was part of the economic model. Why would they deny it when so much evidence exists to the contrary?

Leavers have been contacting us with their disbelief that Gloriavale would try to make this claim. One leaver estimated that post-2017 around half of the people working in the dairy industry were under 18.

One man said, “What a load of garbage. It’s an outright lie. Even recently they would come and get boys 12 years and up to go and do dairy. It only stopped after the Employment Court ruling a few weeks ago, because they said they didn’t want to start paying them wages.”

Another leaver was speechless. After a delayed silence, he said,

“The denial. This is not the case. I’ve been up there dozens of times, and there have been boys that I know 14 – 18 years working in the dairy, milking cows. I can guarantee you the milking roster would be good evidence. It has mostly high school boys on it. It’s an outright lie. It’s not true.”

One mum said her boys were calf-rearing (as noted by Samuel Valor in a recent news article), and this has been completely manned by children under 18. They were also feeding out food to the cows.

One man said that even if Gloriavale hadn’t used child labour since 2017 (which the court found they had), they are still currently exploiting the adult workers that do work on the farm. Westland has every right to stop taking their milk because of this. Workers get 6 days off a year, and don’t get paid.

Most interestingly, this claim in the court yesterday comes a short time after Gloriavale printed a public apology in the Grey Star, saying they were sorry for failing to protect and prevent victims of labour exploitation.

Clearly the apology wasn’t for the farm work. It was just for all the other businesses they were running.

One leaver wrote, “Their claims are so ludicrous and conceited. Surely people will see through their tactics. All their businesses come under the same umbrella because they are the same organisation and control. It’s very disrespectful of the court process and Employment Court judgement to say they are completely unrelated and that the ruling was a knee-jerk reaction. There are real issues and they are just making fun of them.”

Yes, We need to remember that these are real people, and these are real issues. And there have been real impacts for a large group of people who have suffered worker exploitation, and worked in dangerous conditions, and weren’t given the protections that other kiwis are afforded.

We look forward to the judge’s decision.

The opinions represented in this article belong to the contributors and sources, and may not reflect the beliefs of all the members of the Trust.