Greater education among families hiring au pairs is needed rather than increased regulation of the sector, the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) has said.
Irish families looking to hire a person to care for their children have an obligation to read up on their rights and responsibilities as employers when it comes to pay, working conditions, accommodation and rest periods, the MRCI said.
The group's comments followed a Labour Court ruling on Thursday that a Dublin couple made an unlawful financial demand of their au pair.
In two separate rulings the court ordered this week that Bernardine and Thomas McCormack reimburse the €510 they requested from their Brazilian former au pair when she told them she was leaving her post. The court also ordered the couple to pay an additional €4,947 after finding she was paid an effective hourly rate of €2.78.
MRCI legal adviser Jane O’Connell said on Friday that Irish families who do not give au pairs a written contract are breaking the law and told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that the migrant centre was dealing with 2,000 cases of people who are uncertain about their rights.
“We see cases like this all the time, one out of eight of them is a domestic worker, including au pairs. Au pairs are workers. The law says they are workers and they are entitled to rights.”
Full employment protection
As employees, au pairs are entitled to the full employment protection under the International Labour Organization’s Domestic Workers Convention. This includes the right to receive a written statement of terms and conditions of employment or a written contract, to receive payslips and to avail of annual leave and public holidays. They have a right to work on average no more than a 48-hour working week, to receive a premium for work on a Sunday, to be given breaks/rest periods, to receive minimum notice before dismissal, not to have personal documents retained by employers and to work in a safe and healthy environment.
Families hiring au pairs should not only pay the national minimum wage – €9.55 an hour since January 1st, 2018 – but should also register as employers to pay PRSI.
At the same time, families are entitled to deduct €54.13 a week for board and lodging, €32.14 a week for full board only and €21.85 for lodgings only. Employers are also legally obliged to keep records of hours worked.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Business reiterated that the onus rests with an employer – in this case the family employing the au pair – “to be aware of and be compliant with the various applicable employment law statutes”.
The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection highlighted that there was no legal definition of the term “au pair” within Irish legislation and that individuals who fall under this heading are not treated as a separate category of workers under Irish employment law.
Caroline Joyce, director of Cara International au pair agency, says the Government should work with private agencies to create tax credit incentives for families who hire au pairs and warns that the current market is pushing numerous families into the “black economy” in their search for childcare options.
“The biggest competitor is online forums with a lot of people going through Facebook and posting a photo of their family with the message that they’re looking for an au pair. Lots of girls are finding jobs through this black economy which leaves a shortage for the agencies. It’s destroying us as a business and a number of agencies have closed now.”
Ms Joyce said au pairs looking to work in Ireland should apply through registered agencies to ensure both their rights and the rights of their employer are fully protected. She also raised concern over the training of au pairs, saying greater regulation was needed in the area of child protection. “We talk about children’s rights but we need to be sure that they’re being minded by people with proper training and who understand best practice.”
With no registration system, the number of au pairs working in the country is unknown. However, MRCI estimate there are some 20,000 Irish households employing au pairs.