Over the last 10-15 years I have met and talked to Au Pairs from many countries (e.g. Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Brazil and Mexico). In all cases, they have stayed in Ireland for 1-3 years, are still in contact with their host family, did come back numerous times, brought many friends with them when they came back and would have liked to send their children in a few years time to Ireland too. They all arrived with very limited English skills and left with a good command of the language, the culture and a love for Ireland.
Their host families were fair, gave them plenty of time off, good food, proper accommodation, in some cases even holidays away and while the work was not always easy, especially if you are not trained in child minding, they all look back to their time in Ireland as deeply enriching, extremely educational and with a massive influence on their lives since they were here for all the right reasons.
The positive experience by the Au Pairs I met is, however, contrasted by some horror stories of host families from hell and it seems that there are more than we would like to think. In these bad scenarios, the Au Pair was stuck in a place far away from a language school or other au pairs, had limited opportunities or permission to leave the home during the week and was tasked with so much work or soo many young children that they despaired and in all cases left the host family to go to a new and much more considerate family.
So, yes, there are bad apples among the au pair host parents, but it seems that the vast majority does not belong in this category. And because leaving a family doesn’t seem to be the biggest problem, a solution was found in ALL cases.
During the week, a different case got a LOT of media attention.
A Spanish Au Pair was seemingly in a family that demanded more from her than typically should be expected from an Au Pair. An Au Pair is expected to work up to 35 hours per week in the family, mainly looking after the children and often some household chores are also added to it. In return they get accommodation, food and pocket money of around EUR 400 per month. This is not a huge amount and with Dublin prices won’t allow you to live in luxury, but is more than some families have left over at the end of the month in Dublin.
The Spanish Au Pair was given more work than that and less free time. She was from August 2014 until January 2015 in that host family and at times just worked 30 hours, but for a short period of time in November, she was looking after the children for up to 11 hours per day, for 6 days per week when one of the parents was away. In return she got double the pocket money (EUR 200) and if you do the calculation (she got 100 Euro more for 36 hours of work more than in other weeks), then she got the extremely low salary of EUR 2.77 per hour.
That’s not enough and there is no question that the family should have paid her more during that period. However, the Spanish Au Pair decided to go to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC; in the past this was called the Labour Court) to complain about the slave work. She won the case, the family paid her EUR 9229 and now it looks as she single-handedly triggered the end of the Au Pairs in Ireland.
The WRC decided that she should have received at least a minimum salary, BUT also that the maximum value the accommodation and food can be given is EUR 54.13 per week. Maybe the WRC needs to check where in Dublin you can get an own room with all bills paid and food included for EUR 216.52 per month?
There are 20,000 (!!!) Au Pairs in Ireland every year and as a result of that ruling, it seems that many families have decided already to end their relationship with their Au Pair, because they fear that they will have to pay thousands in salaries. And therefore, this probably is the start of the end of Au Pairs in Ireland.
But let me be straight: The abuse of a relatively vulnerable position of an Au Pair in a family is not and should never be acceptable, so 30 hours for EUR 100 is NOT ok. However, if we assume the Au Pair works 30 hours per week, so 120 hours per month and is an untrained worker in the first year of the job (most come directly after school), then the lower minimum salary rate of EUR 7.32 applies and therefore a monthly salary of EUR 878.40 would have to be paid. Now let’s subtract the REAL value of accommodation and food of maybe EUR 400 per month and then we have EUR 478.40 left. Divide it by 4 weeks and surprisingly you arrive at EUR 120, which is not that far away from the EUR 100.
So, instead of killing the Au Pair opportunity for foreign young adults, it should be formalised (as it is the case in the UK) and clear guidelines should be providd. If it was limited to 30 hours per week of light work with a weekly pocket money of EUR 150 would that not be an acceptable compromise?
The Migrants Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI), who worked on this case on behalf of the Spanish Au Pair, and the WRC don’t seem to think so, but from my chats with Au Pairs in good families, they are NOT helping the young adults who want to experience Ireland and learn English for a few months or the (good) families who are happy to reward and respect their Au Pair in an appropriate way, but don’t want to get into becoming employers.
It feels as part from that one Spanish Au Pair, everybody involved is a loser since this case has been decided.