This week has been a very busy one in the Irish au pair scene – a bill, known as the “Au Pair Placement Bill 2016 “, proposed by Anne Rabbite T.D. (FF), was heavily defeated in the Dail. It was opposed by Fine Gael, Sinn Fein, and the Independents4Change group.
The bill set to formalise, and give legal definition to, the role of au pair in the home – with strict guidelines on the role of the au pair, the hours an au pair could work, living conditions, and how au pairs could be hired. It would also remove the au pair’s right to the minimum wage, instead favouring pocket money, and it also called for the setting up of an government agency to oversee the sector.
In his speech rejecting the bill, Minister for Employment and Small Business Pat Breen T.D. said:
“One of the key strengths of our employment rights policy is that we do not discriminate between different categories of workers. While the Bill is completely silent on employment law, it is clearly intended to remove au pairs, as defined in the Bill, from the protections of employment law.”
Independents4Change TD Thomas Pringle, described the bill as:
“outdated and irrelevant, and a flawed concept”
and Sinn Fein’s Maurice Quinlivan TD referred to it as:
“ill conceived; it is lazy sloppy legislation that is not fit for purpose.”
While the defeat of this bill does mean that host families won’t be able to revert to the old system of paying an au pair pocket money, there is light at the end of the tunnel, as, in his speech, Pat Breen T.D. also said:
“The current amount for board and lodgings (€54.13 per week or €7.73 per day) is set out in the National Minimum Wage Act 2000 (National Minimum Hourly Rate of Pay) Order 2000 (SI No. 95/2000). I am very conscious of the passage of time since these rates were set and I think it is timely that these rates be reviewed. To this end it is my intention to ask the Low Pay Commission to review the allowances for board and lodgings, provided for under the National Minimum Wage Act, as part of their next work programme”
This board and lodgings review is something we have been calling for since the WRC case in March:
“Our opinion on this ruling is that, it is only fair that au pairs are paid the minimum wage, however it is unfair to host families, given the cost of living in Ireland, that the maximum deduction a host family can make for hosting the au pair, is €54.13 for full board and lodgings per week.”
It’s clear that while existing labour laws can protect au pairs, and their legal recognition as employees is correct, we also hope that the Low Pay Commission can address the board and lodging rate as a matter of urgency.