'I worked 10-hour days for €100 a week'
Published 30/08/2010 | 05:00
In Marlay Park, Rathfarnham, south Dublin, three au pairs -- Maria from Spain, Agnetha from Poland and Michelle from France -- are sitting on a bench, watching their young charges play in the park.
All are now happy in their work, but when they arrived in Ireland as au pairs, things were very different
All names and ages have been changed.
"I was 19 years old and placed with a family with two toddlers, for the princely sum of €100 per week," recalls Maria.
"On my first day as an au pair in Ireland, Linda told me that her husband works long hours. 'He leaves at six in the morning. When he comes in in the evening, disappear. We see each other for three hours before we crash out. I don't want to share those three hours with you'.
"The father, Chris, was very uneasy in my presence. Perhaps he was terrified of being accused of inappropriate behaviour -- a rebuttal of the celebrity daddies seducing their children's nannies," says Maria.
"He avoided eye contact with me and only spoke to me after he had a few drinks when he'd tell me every detail of the row he had had with Linda that evening.
"When I left after six weeks, Linda tried to charge me for electricity and I later learned that for the last three weeks my standing order pay cheque had been cancelled."
"People want more for their money and they really do get every last penny's worth out of you."
Agnetha, then 20 years old, use to work 10 hours a day for €100 a week, and was not allowed to eat food from the family's fridge. "'No, that's for the family, you don't eat that'," I was told.
"I looked after two young girls in south Dublin whose mother's insensitive comments would hurt me. One night she told the girls to eat their fruit, because kids in Poland couldn't even afford fruit.
"Marianne -- my host mother -- had no respect for me. At the time, I spoke little English. Marianne had no interest in helping me to learn the language and preferred to text me my daily chores rather speak to a linguistically-challenged au pair.
"I left this family after two months, but the agency sent replacements within 24 hours."
Michelle, then 18 years old, found herself taking care of twin girls attending primary school and a four-year old boy who were cared for by a variety of au pairs over a five-year period.
"Aisling, a stay-at-home mum, viewed me like a big sister to her children. While this wasn't wrong, she forgot that I was not actually a child.
"I was horrified to discover that I was not allowed to have any friends over. And to add insult to injury, the twins were allowed to have friends over whenever they wanted.
"Aisling also insisted on parading me at the school gate. I was not to wear my low-rise jeans when picking up the kids. 'After all, you are representing my family,' she'd say.
"I had no authority to discipline. 'Boys will be boys,' I was told when the four-year-old kicked me in the face with this boots on.
"I could not say 'you' don't hit, I have to be passive aggressive and say, 'no WE did not hit each other'.
"The disrespect became too much to handle for pocket money of €100 a week and I left after four months."
Names have been changed