Demand for au pairs declines since wage ruling, says agency

‘Live-in’ workers’ payment issues to be considered by Government ‘in the near future’

Au pairs are often paid below minimum wage, according to the MRCI. File photograph: Philippe Turpin

Au pairs are often paid below minimum wage, according to the MRCI. File photograph: Philippe Turpin

 

There has been a decline in the number of advertisements for au pairs following a Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) ruling on payment, according to the owner of an agency who places au pairs in Ireland.

Cormac Maher, owner of AuPairIreland.ie, said there are far fewer jobs being advertised now following the rule in March last year and that the option of an au pair was longer affordable for many families.

The issue of wages for au pairs came to fore after the WRC ruled that the €100 a week paid to a Spanish au pair was in breach of the law.

A memo will go to Government soon to clarify how much au pairs should pay for board and lodging with their employer.

Mr Maher said regarding au pairs being paid below the minimum wage when food and board is deducted, the same applies to a large percentage of the population, including a lot of our host families.

“We fully support the minimum wage for au pairs. However, with the current food and board allowance being so low, au pair job opportunities are lower than we have ever seen them; the current situation is not working in the favour of au pairs looking for a job, or host families who need their service.”

As employees, au pairs are entitled to the full protection of employment legislation. And, strictly, families should not only be paying them the national minimum wage – €9.25 an hour since January 1st – but also registering as employers to pay PRSI.

At the same time, families are entitled to deduct €54.13 a week for board and lodging. At the end of December 2016 the average monthly rent was €1,111.

Minister for Employment Pat Breen was asked by the Low Pay Commission to review this. Mr Breen has received the commission’s report on board and lodgings and is reviewing it.

A spokesman for the commission said “it is intended a memo for information will go to government in the near future”.

The Migrant Rights Council of Ireland (MRCI) said deductions for board and lodgings have a significant impact on the net income of au pairs, whose hourly wages rarely surpass €10 and are often below the minimum wage.

Gráinne O’Toole, workplace rights co-ordinator with the MRCI, said many au pairs “live-in”, meaning they reside at their place of employment, where they provide care for children and perform domestic chores.

“In effect, deductions in this context result in some au pairs earning below minimum wage. This is a critical issue as deductions can preclude already low-waged workers from earning a legally acceptable wage,” said Ms O’Toole.

Difficult work

“We recommended to the Low Pay Commission that the rates should not be increased now as any increase would result in some workers earning below the minimum wage. Childcare is difficult and important work and au pairs, like all workers, are legally entitled to the minimum wage and to the rights and protections afforded to anyone working in Ireland,” said a spokeswoman for the MRCI.

Ms O’Toole said: “Au pairs often speak of ‘blurred lines’ to describe the grey area between employment and free time. In most cases, au pairs are expected to work over their hours. Many describe being expected to be ‘on call’ for the family.

“For example, being asked to baby-sit in the evening times or to ‘wait on’ for their employer to return home after their working hours are over, yet this is not considered work by their employers and as such they are not remunerated.”

In March 2016 the MRCI recommended that au pairs be paid minimum wage, in the wake of a ruling by the WRC that a Spanish au pair had been exploited. The commission awarded her more than €9,000 in compensation and back pay.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has also supported demands for the minimum wage for au pairs.

With no registration system, the number of au pairs working in the country is unknown; estimates range from 10,000 to 20,000.