Education Review Office reviewing Gloriavale School after Employment Court case

RNZ, New Zealand/July 17, 2023

A woman's place

Gloriavale School is under review by the Education Review Office, the Ministry of Education has confirmed.

Serenity Pilgrim, Anna Courage, Rose Standtrue, Crystal Loyal, Pearl Valor and Virginia Courage took Gloriavale's leaders to court, arguing they lived in servitude working on the West Coast commune's domestic teams and were not community volunteers.

Last week, Employment Court Chief Judge Christina Inglis found the six women, who lived in the Gloriavale Christian community, were employees while working on the teams, after being primed for the job and taught from birth to submit to male leadership in all aspects of their lives.

In her findings, Judge Inglis said members of the closed Christian community accepted girls were only provided an education to the extent it prepared them for life in the sect.

"The Overseeing Shepherd went further, accepting that children are educated so that they are not equipped for the outside world, and that part of the leadership strategy is to ensure that children are kept separate from the outside world in order to keep them within the Community," the judge said.

"The Overseeing Shepherd also explained the desirability of keeping the broader congregation away from the outside world, a concept referred to as "Separation" within What We Believe."

Brian Henry, who represented the six Gloriavale leavers in the case, told RNZ's Checkpoint the community treated women as "third-rate citizens".

"How does the ERO [Education Review Office], who's regulating this school, work that out with their report saying this is a good school?" Henry said.

"This is a school training slaves and we've got a government agency saying 'that's okay' or didn't they recognise it?

"How did the Labour Inspectorate, these are experts, go there and not see what was going on?

"They can work it out when they go to these ethnic groups that they've been chasing around for slavery. Why didn't they see it going into this so-called Christian organisation? Are they blinded by Christianity or are they looking at reality? The reality here is these are enslaved women."

Neither the Ministry of Education, the Labour Inspectorate nor ERO directly responded to questions about whether they accepted Henry's assessment of the school "training slaves".

However, the ministry did acknowledge ERO was currently conducting a review at Gloriavale School.

A spokesperson for the Education Review Office also confirmed since its last reports on the school in March 2020, the three early learning services in the community had closed.

"In addition, a number of children are being home-schooled or enrolled with Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu [a state-funded distance education provider]," the spokesperson said.

"ERO is currently working in the community to review this provision."

Concerns were raised during the last review of the school.

"ERO reviews of private schools are limited in scope and reporting and focused on whether each school meets the criteria for registration as set out in clause 2, Schedule 7 of the Education and Training Act 2020," the ERO spokesperson said.

"Private schools are required to make their curriculum for teaching, learning and assessment; and method of delivery known to the parents of the children attending the school, and for them to agree to it. The content being taught in private schools is determined solely by the school's community and school managers.

"During our previous visit, ERO identified concerns with compliance in respect of some private school registration requirements. Before publication of the review reports, the school provided evidence that they took appropriate steps to fulfil their obligations for registration as a private school."

Labour Inspectorate responds to court ruling and concerns

Compliance and enforcement labour inspectorate head Simon Humphries said the complaints which had arisen at Gloriavale remained a concern for the inspectorate.

"The role of the Labour Inspectorate is to enforce employment standards which primarily relate to the payment of the minimum wage, entitlements to paid leave and protection from unlawful premiums and deductions from pay," Humphries said.

"The Inspectorate conducted an inquiry into the employment status of people living and working at Gloriavale in 2017, after concerns raised by Charities Services, and again in 2020, after allegations of long working hours were made by two community members. This included interviews with 52 people, formerly and currently at Gloriavale, and visits to Gloriavale," he said.

"Based on the information we had at that time (2017 and 2021) and the jurisdiction within which we operate, we had concluded that Gloriavale residents did not meet the legal definition of an employee. In making these conclusions, the Labour Inspectorate was always concerned whether individuals were able to make fully informed decisions while residing at Gloriavale."

The Labour Inspectorate welcomed the court's decision, he said, adding that courts were a key avenue to challenge decisions and clarify points of law.

"The Labour Inspectorate's approach to enforcement in response to the judgment relies on the Court determining the identity of the employer(s). It's important to note that like in the Courage case, this current ruling does not identify the employers."

The Labour Inspectorate met with Gloriavale's leaders in early May.

"While there are still a number of current uncertainties, this was an exploratory meeting to understand how Gloriavale propose to pay arrears to those that the Courage outcome applies to, and what processes they are putting in place to ensure they meet minimum employment standards in the future. Further follow up is planned over the coming months," Humphries said.

"The Labour Inspectorate will take proportionate action following the Employment Court's judgment if required," he said.

"It would not be appropriate to comment further while some matters are still before the courts. In the meantime, we remain committed to the All-of-Government approach."

Oranga Tamariki responded with "no comment" when contacted on Monday.

Last week, the Gloriavale Christian community indicated its intention to appeal the Employment Court ruling.

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