PHOTO: Ex-Gloriavale leader Zion Pilgrim says the community received more than $4 million a year from the government, mainly for payments relating to childcare centres and school. Photo: Google Maps

Gloriavale generates the most of its money through government benefits, a former leader has told the Employment Court.

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The case resumed today in Christchurch, as six former Gloriavale women seek a ruling they were employees, not volunteers, during their time in the community.

Ex-Gloriavale leader Zion Pilgrim told the court from age six, children were expected to work.

“The reality for all of the children in the three age categories: 6 to 12 years; 13 years; and 14 to 18 years, is they are required to work long, punishing hours,” he said.

His own children went into full-time work at 14, Pilgrim confirmed.

“[Fourteen-year-old] boys are expected to work in heavy and dangerous industry.

“And the girls, now called single girls, shoulder the burden of running the teams, which ensures that the men are able to continue to work in their jobs, while being provided with the hostel accommodation, food clothing, washing and anything that was required.”

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Despite the work done by members of the community, the most money was generated by claiming government benefits, Pilgrim said.

“The largest income earner for the community is the children, through the early childcare centres, school and the money received from Working for Families. This amount comes to approximately $4m to $4.5m.”

When Pilgrim became a servant in the community’s leadership ranks, he saw the business accounting documentation.

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“I noticed there were massive fluctuations in wage costs for the Gloriavale businesses, calculated to zero the income of the businesses to minimise the tax, in order to strip the profit out of the business.

“From memory, in 2016 or 2017, the dairy farms paid out $900,000 in wages, and the next year they paid out about $80,000.”

In 2020, Pilgrim and his wife Gloriana became concerned with how recent sexual misconduct in childcare centres was handled.

“My wife asked about what the safety policy was for the centres, with regards to young men coming in the centre during hours. The response to her was ‘you are not a woman of faith’. And so anyone who questions anything like that [was told] ‘well do you not trust us’ [by the leadership].”

Pilgrim wrote a letter to the wider leadership asking for change.

He had a strong feeling police should be involved when the community was dealing with criminal offending, he told the court.

“For a number of years I have had very strong concerns about the historic position of Gloriavale with regards to reporting to police… [The] police should be involved from the outset of any offending that came to be known about.”

Shortly after sending the letter, Pilgrim, his wife and eldest son met with the leadership.


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