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In Ireland, workers in private homes are most at risk of exploitation – new EU report

Section of quilt made by domestic workers

A new EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) report on labour exploitation across the EU has found that in Ireland, domestic workers are most at risk of exploitation.

The report ‘Severe labour exploitation: workers moving within or into the EU’ tracks exploitation of migrant workers in the EU, naming the sectors in which exploitation is most prevalent. In Ireland, the domestic work sector (“Activities of households as employers”) topped the list. Workers in the accommodation & food service activities sector were the next most at risk of exploitation, followed by those in agriculture, forestry and fishing.

The research carried out by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) is the first to comprehensively explore all criminal forms of labour exploitation of workers moving within or into the EU.

Speaking from the report launch in Brussels, Pablo Rojas Coppari of the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) said “These report findings tally with what we have seen in the past 14 years of working with migrants in Ireland: domestic workers are extremely vulnerable to exploitation. By the very nature of the job, domestic workers are isolated, and often unaware of their rights as workers. In addition, the vast majority are women, and many are undocumented; they are afraid to leave and afraid to go to the authorities.”

Mr Rojas Coppari continued, “More and more, we are seeing serious exploitation of au pairs in households across Ireland – women working up to 70 hours a week, caring for Ireland’s children around the clock, often for less than €3 an hour.”

Jane Xavier, a former au pair turned au pair rights activist, stated “It is particularly appalling that people caring for children are at such risk of exploitation. Domestic work is deeply undervalued. Caring, cleaning, cooking - this work is essential to our communities, to our society and to our economy, and yet it is seen as unskilled, unimportant, and unworthy of respect. We need to ensure that domestic workers are protected from exploitation, and we need to change the way we think about domestic work. It’s the work that allows all other work to be done.”

Mr Rojas Coppari concluded, “This report makes it clear that migrant workers – both EU and non-EU nationals – are experiencing severe exploitation in Ireland and across the EU, in a wide range of sectors and locations. Ireland must take this seriously: we need stronger preventative measures and better access to remedies.* We need to make sure we uphold the rights of all workers, without exception.”



FRA’s press release, a media memo and the full report are available at

*Preventive measures recommended by the MRCI include

  • Awareness-raising
  • recognition of the particular needs of workers in risk sectors, such as domestic workers
  • “firewall measures” which allow for undocumented migrants to report exploitation without the fear of being deported
  • an honest and pragmatic approach to migration policy that recognises skills shortages and labour market needs.

*Access to remedies recommended by the MRCI includes

  • access to compensation for labour rights violations through the labour court, irrespective of legal status
  • access to compensation for victims of other crimes
  • measures to facilitate the reporting of crimes, including the possibility of granting residence permits to victims. This is in the spirit of the Victims of Crime Directive due to be transposed in Ireland this year.

The Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) provides free and confidential support, advice and information to migrants and their families in Ireland, and campaigns for the rights of migrants and workers through groups like the Domestic Workers Action Group and Justice for the Undocumented. The work of MRCI is cited as best practice in the FRA report.

June 1 – 7 is Domestic Workers Action Week and will this year be marked with the launch of an au pair outreach campaign and a new paper on childcare in private homes in Ireland. For more please see