Six former Gloriavale women who claim they lived in slave-like conditions and worked under a regime of total control are facing trial from today in the labor court.
Serenity Pilgrim, Anna Courage, Rose Standtrue, Crystal Loyal, Pearl Valor and Virginia Courage claim they were employees, not volunteers, of the reclusive Christian community on the west coast of the South Island.
The hearing for Chief Justice Christina Inglis has been set for four weeks, with 20 witnesses expected to testify for the plaintiffs.
Gloriavale’s senior leaders vigorously dispute the women’s claims, denying that they were employees or were under the absolute control of the Shepherds.
The women claim they started working on a four-day rotation when they left Gloriavale school at age 15, which included cooking, cleaning, doing communal and commercial laundry, and preparing food.
They say they got a morning off in eight days and a week off in a year.
The women say they received no wages, but were given food, shelter and other social benefits.
In a court document detailing their claims, the women say they could not refuse to work without significant consequences, including corporal punishment, denial of food, the threat of eternal damnation, public disgrace or expulsion from the community.
“The plaintiffs allege that they were not volunteers, but employees, who worked under considerable scrutiny, both secular and religious,” the document said.
“The gist of the plaintiffs’ case is that she and all the women in Gloriavale live in ‘slave-like conditions’.”
Four of the six women signed a declaration of commitment and were expected to adhere to the community’s fundamental “What We Believe” document – by “submitting” their lawyers, they claim they agreed to the shepherds’ absolute power and control over their lives. to have.
Gloriavale leaders dispute the claim that the Shepherds had the power to decide every aspect of their lives, saying instead that most decisions were made by the women, their parents or through consultation with the community.
They insisted that the women could leave at any time, and they eventually did.
They say members who signed the pledge confirmed that they had read “What We Believe,” which was a summary of New Testament beliefs and not the ultimate authority on community rules.
The men say the use of the word “submit” expresses a willingness to submit to God, the shepherds and other Christians and none of the documents conferred any legal authority to dictate how a person lives.
The Labor Inspectorate has been accused of violating its legal duty to the women by doing nothing and forcing them to live in servitude, but that claim will not be heard at the upcoming hearing.
The women’s case follows another case heard earlier this year, in which the labor court ruled that three former Gloriavale men were workers from the age of six, working long hours on farms and factories in Haupiri.
Earlier this month, Judge Inglis rejected a request by Gloriavale’s leaders to exclude her from the hearing on apparent bias because she presided over the men’s case.
She concluded that, unlike a jury, a judge is able to set aside irrelevant and prejudicial charges.