A former Gloriavale member struggled to hold back tears on Wednesday as he described the West Coast commune as a "brutal control regime".
Faithful Disciple is giving evidence in an Employment Court case to decide whether Gloriavale residents are volunteers or not.
Last year, the Labour Inspectorate ruled out investigating claims of long working hours, pointing to paperwork showing residents "gave service to the community without the expectations of being paid as individuals".
Disciple was born and raised at Gloriavale, and said the "strong system of corporal punishment, much like a military boot camp" began in primary school, creating a lifetime conditioned response to authority.
"The techniques used included strapping until 2015, standing on the stage and being publicly shamed and also not being fed," Disciple said.
"Those in Gloriavale are akin to slaves. Like slaves we did not choose the life and like slaves it appears the Government is not prepared to assist in the provision of at least the minimum employments and freedoms enjoyed by the rest of New Zealand."
Disciple told the court at 17 he was made to sign a document to "submit to the total authority of the overseeing shepherd".
"The consequence of this is that you work with the expectation they will provide you with food, accommodation, clothing and anything else they consider as being suitable for the essentials of life.
"You have no access to money. you are not paid a wage. In my case I was never a volunteer but was working for my board and keep.
"After I was married I was not only working for my board and keep but also for that of my family, which at the time I left Gloriavale was a wife and seven children."
Disciple and his family tried to leave Gloriavale in 2015 but they were caught, pressured to stay and then monitored by the leadership.
He was subjected to "at least 20 disciplinary sessions with the servants and shepherds" during his time at Gloriavale.
Disciple said he would be taken into a meeting where he was harangued, shamed and put under severe mental stress until he would submit to their will.
The hearing has been set down for five days, and will also hear from Glorivale leadership and the Labour Inspectorate.