Agencies call for separate status for au pairs

Au pair agencies have called for the separate regulation of the au pair system in the wake of the employment court ruling that host families must comply with the law on minimum wage, holidays, and all other employment protections.

Agencies call for separate status for au pairs

Agenices say the ruling abolishes the traditional idea of the au pair arrangement being a cultural experience and would make Ireland a turn-off for many prospective au pairs and overseas placement agencies.

Seán Kavanagh, who runs the SK Dublin au air agency and places 300 au pairs from EU countries in Ireland each year, said while the area needed regulation, ignoring the unique nature of the au pair experience was not the way to go about it.

“We work with 65 partner organisations around Europe and we know a number of them wouldn’t send us au pairs anymore if they were reclassified as domestic workers. They want to deal with cultural exchanges, not employment agencies,” he told Newstalk.

Caroline Joyce of the Cara International Agency echoed that view. “The agencies will now start placing in England and other countries instead of Ireland.

“Our partner agencies do not want our au pairs to be treated as workers because it goes completely against the cultural apsect of the programme.”

Ms Joyce said the confusion over the status of au pairs had left host families in a very difficult position, with many of those who relied on official advice that au pairs were exempt from general employment legislation now fearing they could be hit with hefty claims for back pay and compensation.

In 2014, Ireland ratified the International Domestic Workers Convention which workers and migrant rights groups welcomed as clarifying that au pairs and other previously unclassified home helpers should be treated as employees.

But less than a year ago, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald stated firmly that au pairs were not regarded as employees. In response to a parliamentary question, she said that au pairs were engaged under a “private, voluntary, shared understanding between the parties involved”.

A month later, Jobs Minister Richard Bruton stated that they were employees and that all legal protections should apply to them, but that view was untested until the case taken to the Workplace Relations Commision by a Spanish au pair with the help of the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland, which now has 40 more cases pending.

The ruling means that families bringing an au pair into their home need to register with the Revenue Commissioners as employers, pay at least the minimum wage, limit working hours, provide for holidays, deduct tax and other pay-related contributions, and complete all the associated paperwork.

The ruling has been welcomed as a stand against the exploitation of au pairs used as cheap labour as housekeepers and childminders.

Agencies have said, however, that parents on low incomes who cannot afford formal childcare and those on shift work for whom formal childcare is not an option, have often provided excellent experiences for au pairs which will now be brought to an end.

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