Survey finds au pairs 'exploited'
Over a third of au pairs who come to Ireland may experience exploitation by families here, a new survey suggests.
The research by the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland (MRCI) indicates a high level of abuse of au pairs. Predominantly young women, the au pairs reported working excessively long hours, heavy workloads, being given too much responsibility while receiving low payment.
Surveying 53 au pairs over a five-month period to March this year, the 'Part of the Family?' report found that in some cases, au pairs are being used as a cheap form of childcare, the centre says.
Defining au pair standards the European Committee on Au Pairs limits working hours to 30 a week, including babysitting. It says the role of an au pair is, "to help with light household duties, integrate as a member of the family and share his or her culture with the family and vice versa".
The MRCI research however found three quarters of au pairs in Irish families were working in excess of the 30-hour maximum with 26 per cent working a 40-60 hour week. Some 13 per cent reported not being free to leave the house when duties were done.
Being on-call all the time, babysitting every night without pay, working weekends and an on 'off-time' including Sundays and holidays were common complaints.
With duties extending to doing family laundry, housekeeping, cooking, cleaning, gardening and car washing, respondents used terms such as 'slaves' and 'servants' to describe their treatment. The average weekly 'pocket money' for their work was €110.
Of those surveyed, 58 per cent were EU citizens with the remainder from countries including Brazil, Mauritius and Mexico.
Some 29 per cent of au pairs who come to Ireland said they felt they had not learned about Irish culture and 26 per cent reported being excluded form family activities, such as birthdays.
MRCI community worker Aoife Smith said that au pairs were not protected by employment legislation.
"The au pair is not a worker. It is intended to be a cultural exchange programme," she said. "However, our research shows they are being used as a cheap form of labour to provide childcare."
Calling for the introduction of statutory guidelines for the au pair industry, she said: "If a host family is found to be abusing au pairs, they should be banned from accessing further au pairs."
The Irish National Au Pairs Association's Julie Kelly said poor online recruitment methods "allowed families to ignore the cultural aspects of the programme".
She said au pairs were now being perceived as "an alternative to hiring qualified childcare professionals".