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'Au pair fed only potatoes, forced to eat in bedroom' - Migrants Right Centre


Mariaam Bhatti

Mariaam Bhatti

Mariaam Bhatti

A Young woman working as an au pair complained of being given only potatoes at mealtimes and being denied a seat at the same table as her host family, according to the The Migrants Right Centre of Ireland (MRCI).

The casual ill-treatment of au pairs emerged following the Sunday Independent's coverage of the suffering endured by mainly foreign young women working for Ireland's middle-class families.

A spokesperson for the MCRI said that another young woman described how she become a mother's "personal servant, waiting on her hand and foot" with cups of tea when she came in from work in the evening.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent spokesperson Aoife Smith said some women can feel "threatened and insecure" by the presence of the childminder who is performing the tasks and caring duties normally provided by the mother. It can lead to tensions in the home.

"In some cases it can be difficult for mothers to see their children forming strong bonds of affection and care with another woman. This sometimes manifests itself in resentment and cruel treatment of the worker," she added.

Describing the cases presenting to her, she said: "In one recent case an au pair was given different food to the rest of the family at meal times.

"She was told that she was given light, heat and accommodation and that a meal in a restaurant would cost over €10. There were times when she was given only potatoes and vegetables for dinner."

In another case, a South African worker told the Sunday Independent: "I worked 68 hours a week for €100. I wasn't allowed to eat at the same table with them - even on special occasions like the father's birthday. I always ate my meals in my bedroom. If an expensive bread came into the house I was told I could only use the cheaper bread.

"They sound like small examples but it made me feel awful. I hated the way I was treated. Saturdays were the worst. I had to start at 7am and make their breakfast. While they were eating I cleaned through the four-storey house. By the end I used to collapse on my bed and close my eyes and the tears would roll down my cheeks. My only rest was when I was sleeping."

Ms Smith recounted another case: "A young EU national living with a family in Dublin was told by the employer that she had to stay in the family home for two months to get to "know" the house before she was allowed to attend language classes.

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"She was living in Dublin seven months when she contacted MRCI and she had seen barely anything of Dublin. She was hardly allowed out."

"She described feeling like the mother's personal servant, making the mother cups of tea in the evening when she arrived home late after work. She had to take on the role of 'kitchen hand' any time the mother decided to cook. She was always expected to wash, peel and prepare the vegetables and then had to wait up until after dinner and the guests had left before she was allowed to clean up.

"There was a constant subtle form of harassment, for example, remarking on the 'poor' cleaning job being done by the au pair.

"On one occasion when she was feeling ill, she asked the mother, who was a GP, to give her €50 to pay for a visit to the doctor as she could not afford it. The plea for help was refused and eventually a teacher in the language school she was attending later arranged for her to visit a general practitioner to receive medical attention."

The MRCI says a new trend of using young women on cultural exchange programmes as live-in domestic workers is sweeping Ireland.

"In 2009 it was no longer possible to get a work permit for a non-EU child minder. Recession had also kicked in, and many families wanted cheaper childcare options,

"This is also the period when MRCI began to see the first cases of outrageous exploitation of au pairs," explained Ms. Smith.

"Many au pairs, like other migrant domestic workers who live in the family home, are afraid to complain as they fear they will lose their job, their accommodation and their income all in one go.

"That means many stay in exploitative situations. As many employers do not pay tax and PRSI contributions, the au pairs cannot access social protection and the low pay they receive prevents them from entering into private rented accommodation.

"They are very vulnerable and often return to the internet to find another exploitative au pair job. They are trapped."

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