Au pair in landmark trial set to pursue her second host family

The au pair awarded €9,000 against the couple she worked for in a landmark ruling by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) is set to take a case against her subsequent host family.

Au pair in landmark trial set to pursue her second host family

The Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland (MRCI), who supported the anonymous Spanish woman in her original case, has confirmed that they are awaiting a hearing in relation to a case the woman is taking against the next family she was employed by.

MRCI legal officer Virginija Petrauskaite said they are awaiting correspondence from the WRC and that the woman, who is now back in Spain, wishes to remain anonymous.

“I can’t comment on individual cases but it isn’t unusual for people to remain unaware of their rights through a series of employers before they approach us,” Edel McGinley, director of the MRCI, said.

Since the landmark ruling made headlines, the centre received many calls from au pairs seeking information on their rights, and from host families concerned they may be breaking employment law.

“There’s been a lot of scaremongering out there — we want families to know there’s nothing to be scared of,” Ms McGinley said.

Under the WRC ruling, hosting families are deemed to be employers and au pairs are entitled to minimum wage and other employment protections. Host families are entitled to deduct €54 a week for room and board. Many families and au pair agencies criticise this figure as too low, and counter that the host parent’s role far exceeds that of employer.

Responding to calls from agencies and parents for official recognition for the role of au pair as distinct from a childminder, Ms Ginley said: “We don’t agree. Other European countries have systems in place that are very flawed.

“It creates a hierarchy of rights and undervalues the work of childminding. We don’t believe it’s a ‘cultural exchange’; that’s an outdated system. There is no au pair sector.”

Forty other similar cases are now pending, with claims as high as €35,000 involved.

Caroline Joyce of Cara International Agency, an au pair placement agency, said the ruling had “opened the floodgates” for further claims:

“Our phones have been manic since this case hit the news. Some families are choosing to let their au pairs go.”

Ms Joyce’s agency advises families they have an obligation to pay minimum wage and that, for their own protection, that they should fill out timesheets, which Ms Joyce says have caused considerable confusion.

“I’ve had people ask me, ‘well, if we’re having dinner and she gets up and loads the dishwasher without me asking as a courtesy, do I have to write that down?’”

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