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Au pairs 'used as cheap childcare' and can be underpaid, exploited

New research says that many families in the UK feel that hosting an au pair is the only way they can meet their childcare needs.

Au pair
Au pair

THE GOVERNMENT NEEDS to step in to prevent more au pairs from being abused.

That’s according to the Migrant Rights Centre, which says that a new report echoes findings of similar Irish studies when it comes to the exploitation of these domestic workers.

The UK research is in an ESRC-funded report called ‘Au pairing after the au pair scheme?’, which found underpayment and some exploitation of au pairs in the UK.

The two-year research project found that the average au pair in the UK works up to 38 hours a week, although some are expected to work for up to 70 hours.

It said that 14% of au pairs do not receive the £85 a week that’s recommended by the British Au Pairs Agencies Association. The report said:

Many families feel that hosting an au pair was the only way they could meet their childcare needs. This could make them resentful or even exploitative hosts.

It also says:

The government needs to provide support for au pairs and a means of redress for those who are ill-treated.

Au pairs in Ireland

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.

MRCI said that Irish research showed that 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. The MRCI says that its research shows that most experience poor working conditions, long hours and severe underpayment.

MRCI’s Aoife Smith said that au pairs can be used by families as “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 of the Au Pair Rights Association Ireland said: “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.”

MRCI’s 2012 study showed that 42% of au pairs surveyed received no written contract; 36% reported exploitation; 15% had to be on call at night and 13% reported not being free to leave the house after duties were done.

The government ratified the Domestic Workers Convention earlier this summer.

Read: Au Pairs welcome decision on Domestic Workers Convention>

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