New Zealand’s courts provide an important role to challenge decisions and aspects of law, which this judgment has. It clarifies the applicants in the Pilgrim case are employees.
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.
Head of Compliance and Enforcement, Labour Inspectorate Simon Humphries says the complaints that have arisen over the years at Gloriavale remain a concern for the Labour 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. 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.
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”, says Simon Humphries.
The Inspectorate relies on people coming forward for us to be able to investigate, law prevents us otherwise. We can do things proactively, but we cannot take a case where employment status is in dispute without strong evidence from complainants. Where the Inspectorate observed issues outside its jurisdiction, that information was passed on to the appropriate agency. For example, when working conditions described in the media fell under the Health and Safety at Work Act and were the role of WorkSafe.
The Labour Inspectorate continues to work regularly with joint government agencies to achieve compliance with minimum employment standards. We take all breaches seriously and take appropriate enforcement action where applicable. Forced labour is an offence under the Crimes Act 1961 and it is therefore the NZ Police that have the primary jurisdiction and would take the lead. We have a process in place for referring information when it is outside our jurisdiction, but we have not received any new information following the conclusion of our investigation in 2021.
In August 2022, Cabinet established a multi-agency response to coordinate existing operational activity following the Courage case decision. The All-of-government response to support Gloriavale is convened by the Regional Public Service Commissioner for the West Coast. As part of the multi-agency response, the Labour Inspectorate continues to meet with the Gloriavale leadership to ensure they meet minimum employment standards in the future.
“The Labour Inspectorate will take proportionate action following the Employment Court’s judgment if required. 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”, says Simon Humphries.
Anyone concerned about their employment situation can contact Employment New Zealand where concerns will be handled in a safe environment.