‘The truth is it’s dark’ – Gloriavale workers begin trial in labor court

A former member of Gloriavale told the labor court she would work until she fell asleep as a teenager in the gated Christian community.

Gloriavale Christian Community. File photo.
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Today marked the start of a five-week hearing before Chief Justice Christina Inglis in Christchurch where 49 witnesses will give evidence.

Serenity Pilgrim alongside Anna Courage, Rose Standtrue, Crystal Loyal, Pearl Valor and Virginia Courage claim that their years of domestic work in the cult were as employees rather than volunteers.

Gloriavale leaders deny claims that the women were employees or were under the absolute control of the shepherds.

Serenity Pilgrim was the first of the plaintiffs to give evidence and said she had no life outside of work as a teenager.

“It was work or be scolded,” she said.

“Half the time I didn’t eat good meals because I had to work.”

Pilgrim said she was working a four-day rotation of cooking, cleaning, laundry and getting ready for the next day.

She said she started working when she was seven or eight years old and was gradually given more work until she finished school when she started working an average of 90 hours per week.

The hardest job was in the kitchen, where Pilgrim said she sometimes worked from 3 a.m. to 9 p.m. without proper breaks and restricted bathroom breaks.

“If the bathroom breaks were longer than five minutes, they would ask what was going on.”

“I just fall asleep at the table.”

In his opening statement, the lawyer for the six women, Brian Henry, told the court that the working conditions of the women were as employees and were abusive.

“Put simply, they are not voluntary. They are, like working conditions for women in New Zealand in 2022, in our view, outrageous,” he said.

“The truth is, it’s dark.”

The women essentially lived in a hostel, churning out 11,500 meals a week and sleeping in rooms that slept up to eight people, Henry said.

“It’s not a house, it’s a hostel,” he said.

Gloriavale operated like a family, lawyer says

Gloriavale solicitor Phillip Skelton QC said in his opening statement that the community operates like a family and everyone is both expected and expected to contribute.

“They don’t work for pay or reward or enter into employment contracts,” he said.

“Most people do unpaid work at home to support their families.

“If the court finds that the women of Gloriavale are employees, it will not recognize the true nature of the relationship as it is or was. Rather, it will dictate what it considers the nature of the relationship should have been. “

The women who are current members of Gloriavale were offended by the plaintiff’s claims, and they were happy with their choice to stay and contribute to the community, he said.

Pilgrim left Gloriavale two years ago and said his departure helped her think for herself and truly understand freedom and happiness.

“At Gloriavale you were happy, because you needed to be, and you were told to be,” she said.

“It definitely wasn’t fun, and it certainly wasn’t freedom.”

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