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Dublin: 11 °C Tuesday 20 August, 2019
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Worked for €2 an hour and forced to break the law - the plight of Ireland's au pairs

Camilla would routinely work 14 hour days for little money.

Camila at the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland offices in Dublin.
Camila at the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland offices in Dublin.
Image: TheJournal.ie

TheJournal.ie will this week start looking at the problems which affect workers across a myriad of industries nationwide. It is our intention to highlight exploitation within sectors which traditionally are not well-represented by unions. 

While Camila has been anonymised in the following piece, we have verified the credibility of her story and have been liaising with the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland (MRCI) which has been personally working with her. 

A BRAZILIAN AU pair has lifted the lid on how two years of her life were taken from her by unscrupulous employers who forced her to work 14 hour shifts for little pay and break the law.

Camila (not her real name), like many from South America, came to Ireland to learn English and took up a role as a childminder for a young girl shortly after she arrived.

For the first number of months, everything ran smoothly. Camila was paid on time and in full, she was given her allotted days off and she was treated with respect and was made to feel part of the family.

But as the months progressed, she found herself becoming ostracised by the family. More was expected from her. She had to act as a driver, despite not having a licence. She’d work more and more hours but for the same pay. However, it was one moment six months into her work that changed the complexion of her stay in Ireland.

“The money was down. I would get €140 a week and then I was down to €100. I asked why. I asked what was happening and the excuse never made much sense to me. I was worried and I was scared. I couldn’t say I was leaving because I had no money for a new place to stay and I would not get a reference,” Camila told TheJournal.ie.

“They said to me one day that I have to drive. I said I had no licence but they still want me to go. They said they had put me on the insurance but I don’t think they did. The garda pulled me over one day and said I wasn’t allowed drive. Then I told the family that and they said ‘we need you to drive. If they stop you again then say you didn’t understand them’.

90372828_90372828 A previous protest carried out by the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) over the abuse of domestic workers. Source: Leah Farrell/Photocall Ireland

“There were times I would be having the dinner with them and they would wait for me to leave to have dessert. That’s only small I know. But I realise now they were making me feel that I was different and should be treated differently.

They would hide the food they knew I liked and would say ‘that’s not for Camila. It’s for the family’. On my days off I would just go and maybe head to Stephen’s Green and drink coffee all day. I didn’t want to be in the house. I didn’t feel comfortable and when I was there on my days off, I’d be made to work.

During the summer months, Camila was expected to work more than 14 hours per day. Whenever the child woke up, which would usually be around 7.30am until she went to sleep (around 9pm), Camila would have to tend to her every need. But there was no more money to be had. Some weeks she worked full-time hours, she would receive even less than what she’d usually get. For the seventy hours a week she’d work, Camila would only receive €140 which works out at €2 an hour.

A life outside of the house was also non-existent. She could not afford to go out with friends or get into a relationship. She began withdrawing from the small circle of friends she did have. Mental health difficulties then developed and Camila got sick. A doctor’s visit was the start of her serious financial woes.

“I was very sick and I needed the doctor. I put everything on my Brazilian credit card because that was the only way I could pay. I couldn’t take a day off work as I’d lose pay. But then the interest started getting up and up and I couldn’t pay it off. I had to ring my mother in Brazil and tell her the money trouble I had. She was very upset.

All I needed was for the family to pay me the money I was supposed to be getting. There was so many things happening there that I made it worse. They got used to having me there and having me do everything. I felt like I had to do things I didn’t want to do to keep the job.

The Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland (MRCI) is dealing with Camila’s case and helped her leave the house, advising her on how to seek other employment. Now Camila works elsewhere and is delighted that she can stay in Ireland.

“I love it here. This is my home now and I really like Irish people. But everyone at the  {MRCI} centre was so helpful and made things a lot easier for me. I’m a lot happier now but there were times where I thought I have to leave, I have to go.”

Responsibility

The MRCI has said the au pair industry is routinely abused by employers who do not know their responsibilities.

A spokeswoman for the centre told TheJournal.ie: “Childcare is work and au pairs are workers. This has been confirmed again and again by the Labour Court.

We’ve seen too many cases like Camila’s and worse – long hours and extremely low pay are rife.

“We’re calling on the government to ensure that Ireland’s employment laws are enforced, and to run a public information campaign to ensure that both employers and au pairs know their rights and responsibilities.

“Employers must pay au pairs at least minimum wage and comply with employment law generally – the Workplace Relations Commission has some good clear guidelines. These laws and protections exist for a reason; they’re not complicated, but they’re absolutely vital.”

The following is what au pairs are entitled to:

  • A written statement of terms and conditions of their employment (a contract)
  • At a minimum the national minimum hourly rate of €9.15
  • A payslip or a statement of wages
  • No more than 48 hours’ work per week on average
  • Breaks, public holidays, annual leave and Sunday premium
  • Minimum notice before dismissal
  • A safe and healthy working environment
  • Privacy, respect and the safeguarding of their dignity and privacy

The Labour Relations Commission has echoed these sentiments and has said all domestic workers enjoy the same protection under Irish employment legislation as all other legally employed workers.

If you have been abused or mistreated at work and wish to get in touch, you can do so by emailing workersrights@thejournal.ie

Read: Over 300k belonging to criminal gang discovered in woman’s home following search >

Read: 5,600 enquiries, 20,000 hours of CCTV footage – Garda Adrian Donohoe’s murder is still unsolved >

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