Au pairs in Irish homes face ‘exploitation and neglect’

Average au pair is paid €100 for a 40-hour working week, says the Migrant Rights Centre

The Labour of Love campaign which focuses on the rights of workers in private homes across Ireland was launched by au pairs and domestic workers earlier this year. Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

The Labour of Love campaign which focuses on the rights of workers in private homes across Ireland was launched by au pairs and domestic workers earlier this year. Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

 

More than 20,000 Irish households are employing au pairs to look after children and clean homes, with the average au pair paid just € 100 for a 40-hour working week.

Research from the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) released on Wednesday reveals a pattern of exploitation and precariousness experienced by au pairs working across the State.

The failure to enforce employment legislation for these primarily female migrant workers makes the Irish State complicit in the exploitation and neglect of domestic workers, says the MRCI.

“We have seen a huge growth in the number of women au pairing in Ireland over the last five years,” said Aoife Smith. “Our centre is providing support and information to over 1,000 au pairs today compared to just 40 in 2013.

“These are extremely vulnerable workers who are being illegally denied basic employment rights, and our research shows that this problem will continue to grow if the Government does not act now.”

Ireland has no legal framework for au pairs and nothing that stipulates that they are exempt from employment regulations. Irish agencies tend to categorise au pairing as a cultural exchange programme where the foreign worker lives with a host family to experience a new culture and learn English.

The launch of the Childcare in the Domestic Work Sector paper from the MRCI follows the release earlier this week of an EU report which found domestic workers in Irish homes were most at risk of exploitation, followed by workers in the agriculture, forestry and fishing industries.

The MRCI found 42 per cent of au pairs received no written contract laying out the terms of employment, while 36 per cent experienced exploitation, according to a survey carried out in 2012.

Some 15 per cent of au pairs had to be on call at night, 17 per cent were paid less than €100 per week and 26 per cent worked between 40 and to hours a week.

The Migrant rights group says a high proportion of domestic workers are women who hold low-status, low-value occupations with low pay and poor terms and conditions.

Elisangela Camposrosa, a former au pair and spokeswoman for Domestic Workers Action Group, says au pairs are hidden in Irish homes across the state, caring for children, cooking and cleaning.

“Without the work of au pairs, parents could not do their own jobs - and yet our work is not valued, we are severely underpaid, and we’re not seen as real workers,” said Ms Camposrosa. “Au pairs are not excluded from any employment legislation in Ireland, so why is the government failing to protect our rights?”

The MRCI is calling on the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to issue a clear statement on the rights and entitlements of au pairs in Irish homes and increase inspections in private homes with specific focus on au pairs. It warned that failure to improve the working environment for au pairs would undermine the State’s international commitments to protecting human rights, upholding worker rights and ensuring gender equality.

“Au pairs are filling the gap left by Government under-investment, and the Government is turning a blind eye to their exploitation,” said Ms Smith. “We need to ensure that childcare in Ireland is safe and sustainable for children and for those caring for them.”