Au pairs are being ‘severely exploited’

Thousands of au pairs working in households nationwide are being severely exploited, working long hours in sometimes hostile conditions for less than the minimum wage, according to research which shows the extent of the problem.

Au pairs are being ‘severely exploited’

Carried out by the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland (MCRI), the study shows some au pairs are working more than 70 hours a week for less than €120 and do not get proper breaks or extra pay for working bank holidays.

Traditionally, au pairs were foreign students living with a family as part of a cultural exchange to learn a language. They were expected to help with childcare for a stipend of €100 a week.

Now, more than 20,000 homes in Ireland employ the services of an au pair – the MCRI say these workers are being used by parents to save money on costly childcare and housekeeping services.

READ MORE: Au pairs and families tell how best to make the relationship work

“There’s a huge amount of exploitation happening in this sector, we need to see something happen,” the MCRI director Edel McGinley told Sean O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio 1.

“An au pair is a person, a childminder, working in your home and they need to be respected as such.”

Ms McGinley said anyone who employs a person to work in their home must register with Revenue as a single employer and must uphold employment law: “If you have someone in your home, you’re paying them, they’re doing work, you are their employer.

“If people are forced to register with revenue it’s a way to know and track who’s in houses across the country. We want the minister to step in immediately to enforce the legislation that’s already in place.”

According to the MCRI report, more than one third of surveyed au pairs said they had experienced exploitation in their job. Almost half said they were paid between €100 and €119 each week and almost one fifth said they got less than €100.

Over a quarter of respondents said they work 40-60 hours a week, with a further 8% working more than 60 hours a week.

The MCRI said the arrangement gives employers risk-free access to cheap labour outside of an employment relationship, but systematically fails au pairs.

The MCRI also cites a report by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency that says in Ireland, workers in private homes are most at risk of exploitation.

“By the very nature of the job, domestic workers are isolated, and often unaware of their rights as workers. In addition, the vast majority are women, and many are undocumented; they are afraid to leave and afraid to go to the authorities,” said Pablo Rojas Coppari from the MCRI.

MRCI is urging the Government to introduce policies to protect au pairs, to formalise their status and that of other domestic workers and to enforce their employment rights.

CASE STUDY - Jessica’s story

Jessica, from Brazil, was recruited through an au pair website in 2013 to work in a family home in rural Ireland. She looked after three children and carried out housework. She worked 70 hours a week for €120. She started work at 7am and finished later than 9.30pm.

Every morning she dressed the children, fed them, made lunches for the older children, and cared for the two-year-old at home. Her daily cleaning duties consisted of cleaning the house. She had to wash the dishes, do the laundry, cook dinner and clean up after the meals.

In the afternoon she helped the children with homework, took them for walks, and played with them. She bathed them at bed time, helped them brush their teeth, and put them to bed.

Jessica worked Sundays and public holidays without extra pay and worked without breaks. She stayed with the family for more than a year and was given only one week’s holidays. She finally left as she could no longer endure the harsh working conditions and low pay.

READ MORE: How to find a great au pair for you and your kids

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