Au pairs have been coming to Ireland for decades. Traditionally, young women travelled from European countries to learn English and experience a new culture. They would stay with a host family and were generally treated as a “family member” in a protective family environment.
Until now there has been little research into the experiences and conditions of au pairs in Ireland. A major new report by the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland (MRCI) has found that 36% of au pairs surveyed reported being exploited. The findings suggest that many more are experiencing exploitation but they do not recognise it.
The experiences documented point to the systemic abuse of the concept of au pairing. It seems evident that au pairs are being used as a cheap form of childcare, which also highlights the lack of regulation of the industry.
Some of those interviewed provide stark lessons:
I didn’t know the employers would treat me like a slave. I was working from Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. to 10.30 p.m. for €125 a week. I got no breaks, no holiday pay, and no contract. I had no time for myself. I was taking care of three kids, doing the washing, ironing, cleaning, mopping, cooking and all the housekeeping. If I asked for more pay they said, “We give you a room. You would have to rent otherwise, and we are not paying you anymore” – Sofia, 42, Mauritius
I got the position on the Internet. I was working for a single father taking care of one girl. I was doing more than 50 hours a week for €120. He worked as a security man and would come home very late at night with no notice. I worked every Sunday without extra pay. The man was aggressive and he would yell at me. – Maki, 25, Korea
The mum doesn’t like it when I go out. She told me I had to stay home for the first two months to get to know the house; I wasn’t allowed go to school. I have lived in Dublin for seven months and I don’t know the place. When she is here I have no life. She never talks to me, only to ask me to clean. She complains that I don’t clean properly. I feel like a servant. I even have to make her tea when the kids are in bed. Where would I go if I left? I have nowhere to go. – Ceny, 20, Spain
I had to wake up with the baby and change the baby’s nappy. I was expected to be on call all night. My room was beside the baby’s. I remember I was sick and was still expected to wake up with the baby. I was expected to be on call 24/7. When the children were sleeping I had to do the cleaning and the ironing. – Marina, 26, Brazil
Au pairs were aware of an attitude in some host families where the au pair was viewed as ‘disposable’ and ‘replaceable’. In four cases, au pairs interviewed knew the host family had previous au pairs who had left as a result of the bad conditions.
The pattern of exploitation, neglect and precariousness experienced by au pairs is a matter of serious concern. Au pairs have become synonymous with a cheap supply of childcare and increasingly other forms of care work.
Those with concerns should call the MRCI on (01) 889 7570
Full report available in PDF format here