Press Centre

Au pair exploitation: New UK research backs Irish findings

A new research project on au pairing in the UK has echoed the findings of similar Irish studies. Experts from Migrant Rights Centre Ireland are now calling for urgent action by the Department of Jobs to prevent further abuse of au pairs in Ireland.

The ESRC-funded report ‘Au pairing after the au pair scheme?’ found widespread underpayment and exploitation of au pairs in the UK. Irish studies by Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) and Cultúr have previously revealed similar abuses across Ireland. Irish research showed that vulnerable au pairs provide full-time and flexible childcare in homes across the country for a fraction of minimum wage, with the average au pair being paid just €100 for at least 40 hours of childcare and domestic duties per week.

There are an estimated 10,000 au pair placements every year in Ireland. As workers, all au pairs are covered by employment law, including minimum wage legislation, but most experience poor working conditions, long hours and severe underpayment. There is no special legal framework for the au pair system in Ireland. Under Irish legislation au pairs are protected by employment legislation as a category of domestic work, but in practice au pairs are denied their rights and used as cheap childcare in a country where childcare costs are exorbitant.

MRCI’s Aoife Smith said, “Au pairs are domestic workers. In law they have the right to be paid €8.65 an hour, but the reality is that the au pair is used by families across the country for cheap childcare. The Government needs to take a very clear line on this: we have to enforce employment legislation which should protect vulnerable workers like au pairs. Increasing numbers of families are relying on au pairs; without urgent action, problems will continue to escalate and we’ll see greater and more severe exploitation. Families must be made aware of their responsibilities, and au pairs must know their rights.”

Jane Xavier, a former au pair who helped set up the Au Pair Rights Association Ireland when she discovered how badly other au pairs were being treated, said “In Ireland, au pairs regularly work upwards of 50 hours a week for just €100. We care for children and babies, we cook and clean, and we’re expected to be available around the clock. The voice of the au pair is seldom heard; many au pairs are isolated and alone in private homes, leaving them extremely vulnerable to exploitation. Families need to know that au pairs are workers, and like any other workers we have the right to fair pay and decent working conditions. Au pairs can still be a smart and cost-effective choice for parents, but cheap childcare should not be at the expense of workers’ basic rights.”

ENDS

Dublin, 20 October 2014

Notes for Editor

Research shows a spectrum of exploitation experienced by au pairs in the workplace including low wages, long working hours and poor treatment. MRCI’s 2012 study showed:

  • 42% received no written contract
  • 36% reported exploitation
  • 15% had to be on call at night
  • 13% reported not being free to leave the house after duties were done
  • 21% worked more than 8 hours a day
  • 26% worked between 40 and 60 hours weekly
  • 8% worked in excess of 60 hours weekly
  • 17% were paid less than €100 per week
  • 49% were paid between €100 and €119 per week
  • 21% did not receive regular breaks
  • 30% reported not getting any holidays
  • 27% worked Sunday – 83% of these did not receive extra payment
  • 41% worked Bank Holidays – 76% of these did not receive extra payment 

Links to research:

Au pairing after the au pair scheme? New migration rules and childcare in private homes in the UK (2014)

Exploitation of au pairs in Ireland: MRCI briefing paper and recommendations (2014)

Disposable workers? The experience of au pairs in Co. Meath (Cultúr, 2014)