Sect subject to scrutiny
By Paul Bibby
The general manager of the Royal Easter Show said he would not be surprised if a cafe run at the event by a Christian sect was inspected by the state’s workplace watchdog after revelations its workers were not being paid.
Michael Collins said officers from the NSW Office of Industrial Relations would make inspections during the show and might examine the Common Ground cafe – one of several restaurants owned by the Community Apostolic Order.
The Herald revealed yesterday that former members of the messianic sect have accused it of harsh child discipline, and of requiring members to put in long hours building and working in cafes across the state without pay, insurance or adequate equipment.
“The industrial relations office have full access to all of the operators at the show and it would not surprise me if they decided to look into them,” Mr Collins said yesterday.
“If someone is doing something wrong, we want to know about it so we can take appropriate action. At this stage I’m not aware that they are in breach of any laws, but if they are found to be doing something wrong, we will do something about it.”
An elder from the order said staff were not paid because they “work only for love, like the disciples of old”. A worker at the cafe, who declined to be identified, described himself as a volunteer. He said the workers had built the two-storey structure housing the cafe at the show from scratch. It had taken several weeks and was “pretty hard work”.
They had come from the order’s Blue Mountains cafe and would return there after the show. He said they were given a day off each week.
Mr Collins said people attending the show need not be concerned about whether the cafe was safe or hygienic.
“Every single independent operator at the show has to be structurally certified before they are allowed to open, and every single food outlet has at least one hygiene inspection by Auburn Council during the course of the show,” he said.
“They have to have workers compensation arrangements before we will let them open and public liability insurance. We’re confident that patrons are safe.”
Allegations against the sect – formed in Tennessee in 1971 – have included the beating of children with sticks. This is done on the grounds that “the rod is an instrument of love” and that “you must make it hurt enough to produce the desired result”.
One of the group’s Sydney elders, Peter Baker, declined to speak when contacted by the Herald yesterday.