Former Gloriavale members claim they’ve been forced to sign documents not knowing what they were.
Issac Pilgrim was born at the West Coast commune, and fled to Timaru with his 10 children in 2018.
He told 1 NEWS that members were often lined up to sign forms, and told to follow what the leadership said.
“I remember a few times wanting to read through things and they were like ‘you don’t need to read it, you just need to trust us’,” said Pilgrim.
1 NEWS has obtained Gloriavale’s waiver of independent legal advice, which residents sign.
While it recommends individuals talk to a lawyer, it also contains a clause whereby they waive that right.
“I don’t know of anyone who got independent legal advice … everyone was too scared. No one would ever talk to an outside lawyer … you’re actively discouraged from seeking it,” said Pilgrim.
Members also signed a so-called partnership agreement, which the Labour Inspectorate used in its inquiry into long working hours.
The inspectorate ruled it could not investigate further because the agreement did not create an employment relationship, and there was no evidence they were pressured to sign.
Former member Virginia Courage said the agreement has robbed those inside of their rights.
“I didn’t feel like it was about giving me any benefits or protection. It was from my understanding protecting their business structure from litigation lawsuits.
“I have never been given the option for independent legal advice when I was in Gloriavale,” said Courage.
Employment lawyer Megan Richards said the legal waiver raises questions.
“How can you know what you’re giving up and under the consequences, if you haven’t obtained independent advice.
“I think it would be very difficult, very unlikely for a waiver giving up the right to seek independent advice to be held up in that context,” said Richards.
Workplace Relations Minister Michael Wood said if people feel they’ve signed agreements under duress then they have a legal right to challenge it.
“The Labour Inspectorate will continue to monitor the situation and will take note of any new complaints or information.
“If the parties disagree with the Labour Inspectorate’s decision, they are able to take their own case to the ERA,” said Minister Wood.
Issac Pilgrim doubts anyone still living inside the commune of around 550 people will speak out.
“Where people are bred into a system where they have no rights and are treated with no respect, treated like virtual slaves in our democracy, that’s wrong,” he said.
Gloriavale’s leadership has not responded to requests for comment.