New laws set to limit hours and pay for au pairs
Fianna Fail bill will establish oversight body and strict guidelines for hiring live-in workers
Au pairs would have to work no more than 30 hours a week in return for lodging and pocket money under new legislation being put before the Dail by Fianna Fail in the coming weeks.
The proposed legislation would for the first time legally define the role of more than 20,000 au pairs working in Ireland and establish a cultural exchange programme to allow Irish families hire workers from abroad.
It would also lead to the establishment of an oversight body which would accredit au pair agencies and hear complaints from those working for Irish families.
The bill was drafted in reaction to a recent Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) tribunal which ruled that a live-in Spanish au pair should be paid at least the minimum wage. The host family was forced to pay the young woman more than €9,000 in back pay after the commission found they were in breach of employment law.
The ruling in March sent shock waves through the au pair sector and led to fears among thousands of families that they will be forced to let au pairs go because they cannot afford to pay them the minimum wage.
There is currently no legal definition of an au pair or nanny in Irish legislation, which lead to the WRC ruling that au pairs should be treated as domestic workers in the eyes of the law. This meant the relationship between au pairs and their host families were seen in the same context as that of an employee and employer.
Under Fianna Fail's new bill, drafted by Galway East TD Anne Rabbitte, au pairs would be hired by families as apart of a cultural and education exchange programme.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Ms Rabbitte said there are thousands of families around the country in "limbo" due to the WRC ruling.
"People are sitting back and they are wondering how it is going to fare out. It is at the back of people's minds at the moment," she said.
The Au Pair Placement Bill 2016 states that those hired under the scheme would have to work no more than 30 hours a week, or seven hours a day, in exchange for "hospitality, lodging and pocket money".
An au pair placement with a family would be no longer than one year in duration, but this could be renewed at the end of a contract.
The bill states that au pairs would be required to do "light house work" as part of the exchange programme, and this could include child-minding, domestic chores and other household duties.
Details of what would constitute household duties will be decided by an Au Pair Accreditation Council.
The bill is also aimed at cracking down on the "less regulated elements" of the au pair agency sector.
If the legislation is enacted, au pairs could only be hired through accredited au pair agencies.
The host family and au pair would also have to adhere to strict contractual guidelines agreed with a regulated agency.
The Au Pair Accreditation Council will also carry out inspections and rule on disputes between au pairs and their host families, or between families and au pair agencies.
Penalties for breaching the new rules would be drafted by the council.
"As a mother myself, if I was to let my girls go off and be au pairs across Europe, I would like to think there is a minimum standard requirement," Ms Rabbitte said.
Research by the Migrants Rights Council of Ireland (MRCI) found around 60pc of au pairs receive less than €120 a week in payment, while almost a third work between eight to 10 hours a day for their host family, and 30pc are expected to work when they are sick.
The research also showed 80pc of au pairs working in Ireland have no written contract.
The MRCI supported the Spanish au pair who took the successful legal action against her host family, and the agency is unlikely to be supportive of the Fianna Fail legislation.