We had a recent case of unfair dismissal taken by a childminder against the parents of the family the childminder was minding. In this case the parents had been very cautious about ensuring proper tax and employment law compliance. This is the correct approach but it is not taken by many families. Many au pairs work for wealthy professionals who in all other aspects of their business and personal lives are compliant and ethical. However the au pair situation is often seen as an exception when it is not. Some au pairs can be extremely young and it may be the first time they have ever left their home country. This can leave them extremely vulnerable to being exploited. 98% of all au pairs in Ireland are female. RTE's investigation unit found significant employment law breaches across the au pairs working in Ireland and found that many agencies did not carry out proper vetting.
The Migrant Rights Council of Ireland has found that the average au pair is paid less than €120 for a 40 hour working week. This is less than €3 an hour. Of the 554 au pairs surveyed less than 37% had no contract at all and 40% had a verbal contract only. More than 20,000 families are currently employing au pairs in the home in Ireland. In Ireland there is no specific legal framework regulating the work and conditions of au pairs. However there is also nothing exempting them from our standard employment law protections. Generally an au pair will be classed as a domestic worker. Very often the arrangement is mocked up as a cultural learning and language arrangement by the agencies through which they are introduced. In reality this does not automatically mean that the day to day relationship is not one of employer and employee. If the au pair is in reality an employee then this means the following will apply:
- an entitlement to a contract of employment;
- an entitlement to minimum wage (bed and board can be taken into account)
- an entitlement to payslips
- tax, PRSI and USC must be deducted as appropriate
- maximum weekly working hours
- records of working hours should be kept
- annual leave and public holidays
- notice in the event of dismissal
- unfair dismissal rights
- the right to privacy
The Workplace Relations Commission has published a Code of Practice for Protecting Persons Employed in Other People's Homes which is a must read for anyone employing an au pair.
“As RTÉ Investigates made clear, au pairs are expected to provide full-time, flexible childcare for a fraction of the minimum wage. Au pairs need to know they have rights under the law just like any other worker in Ireland, and families need to know that they have responsibilities as employers.” In a statement, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation pointed out that au pairs have the same contract of employment as everyone else and are entitled to the minimum wage of €8.65 an hour.