Six former Gloriavale women who claim they lived in slave-like conditions and worked under a regime of total control will have their cases heard by the Employment Court from today.
Serenity Pilgrim, Anna Courage, Rose Standtrue, Crystal Loyal, Pearl Valor and Virginia Courage contend they were employees not volunteers at the reclusive Christian community on the South Island's West Coast.
The hearing before chief judge Christina Inglis is set down for four weeks, with 20 witnesses expected to give evidence for the plaintiffs.
Gloriavale's senior leaders strongly contest the women's claims and deny they were employees or under the absolute control of the Shepherds.
The women allege they began working on a four-day rotation once they left the Gloriavale school at the age of 15, including doing cooking, cleaning, communal and commercial laundry and preparing food.
They say they received one morning off in eight days and one week of leave in a year.
The women say they did not receive any wages, but were provided with food, accommodation and other community benefits.
In a court document detailing their claims, the women say they could not refuse to work without significant consequences, including corporal punishment, denial of food, the threat of eternal damnation, public shaming or expulsion from the community.
"The plaintiffs contend they were not volunteers, but employees, working under significant control, both secular and religious," the document said.
"The thrust of the plaintiffs' case is that they and all women in Gloriavale live in 'slave-like conditions'."
Four of the six women signed a Declaration of Commitment and were expected to abide by the community's foundational "What We Believe" document - by "submitting" their lawyers argue they agreed to the Shepherds having absolute power and control over their lives.
Gloriavale's leaders dispute claims the Shepherds had the power to decide every aspect of their lives, instead saying most decisions were made by the women, their parents or by community consultation.
They insist the women could choose to leave at any time and eventually did.
They say members who signed the Commitment confirmed they had read "What We Believe", which was a summary of beliefs taken from the New Testament and not the final authority on community rules.
The men say use of the word "submit" expresses a willingness to submit to God, the Shepherds and other Christians and none of the documents conferred any legal authority to dictate how a person lives.
The Labour Inspectorate has been accused of breaching its statutory duty to the women through inaction, compelling them to live in servitude, but that claim will not be heard at the upcoming hearing.
The women's case is a sequel to another heard earlier this year, in which the Employment Court ruled three former Gloriavale men were employees from the age of six, working long hours on farms and in factories at Haupiri.
Earlier this month Judge Inglis dismissed a bid by Gloriavale's leaders for her to stand aside from the hearing on the grounds of apparent bias because she presided over the men's case.
She concluded a judge, unlike a jury, is capable of putting aside irrelevant and prejudicial allegations.