The Employment Court has decided that three former members of the Gloriavale Community, who had taken part in daily work for the Community since the age of 6 years old, were employees. The individuals applied to the Court for a declaration that they were employees, and not volunteers as claimed by the Community.

The three individuals had been members of the Gloriavale Community since birth, and had all performed work for the Community since the age of 6. Some of their roles included milking cows, refining honey, and extracting sticks from moss. All of these jobs were for the purpose of selling the goods to raise money. None of the individuals were ever paid for their work, nor did they receive holiday leave.

Representatives of the Community argued that the tasks performed by the children were chores, and that they were merely contributing to the Community by helping to provide for the other members.

The Court rejected this argument for various reasons.

Firstly, the tasks that the individuals were made to complete required significant physical exertion over long periods of time, and were for the purpose of commercial benefit, as the Community sold the goods it produced to raise funds. As well as this, the individuals often worked upwards of 40 hours a week, more than what would reasonably be expected from mere chores.

It was also found that the individuals were forced into working, and that the parents of the individuals had no ability to prevent this, as it is a mandatory part of the Communities’ lifestyle. This was factored into the decision to label the individuals employees, because chores are generally given to children at the will of the parent, with the ability to opt in or out. In this scenario this is clearly not the case.

The Court concluded that the individuals were employees, as the Community would not be able to run successfully without the work that the children did, and they were therefore critical to the operation. This coupled with the quantity, and strenuous nature of the work, as well as the profit made from the children’s work and the lack of choice the children had, were the main reasons for the Courts’ decision.

The recent proceedings were only for the purposes of declaring the individuals as employees, so no financial compensation has been sought yet. It is likely that the individuals will be successful if they seek to recover lost wages, and that this will be a significant sum.

If there is confusion around employee rights, or employer obligations, it is wise to seek advice from a professional with experience in the area.


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