Au Pair Placement Bill 2016: Second Stage [Private Members]

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I thank everybody for being here to welcome my Bill which is required to bring legal clarity to au pair exchanges. There is no definition of au pair in Irish legislation and the absence of such a definition has created a legal lacuna for host families and au pairs. In March the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, made a ruling on an au pair payment which threatens to undermine the tradition of au pair exchanges. The issue affects 20,000 families who use au pairs and have been criminalised by the ruling.

I am not trying to say one group is wrong and another is right. I am trying to find an expression that represents the 20,000 families who have engaged in the tradition of having an au pair. Without action on the issue, the au pair system will be a thing of the past. This would be a tragedy for the families and children who host them and the thousands of young men and women who come to our shores every year and live with an Irish family, learn English, experience our culture and build long-lasting relationships with young people from other countries, as well as Irish families.

Groups such as Migrant Rights Centre Ireland aim to do away with the tradition and practice of having au pair. They dislike it because of its informal exchange of mutual benefit rather than being a conventional employee-employer relationship. It is ludicrous to take the position that parents who take in au pairs and provide them with lodging, hospitality and pocket money in exchange for flexible child minding arrangements and doing light housework are in an exploitative relationship. The majority of au pair-host relationships in Ireland and almost all other countries in western Europe, including those with the highest quality and most accessible child care services in the world such as Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden, are not exploitative, but this is not to say there has not been exploitation. I totally acknowledge that there has, which is why legislation is required.

The claim that the status quo arrangements are working and should not be touched is untenable. Since March the 20,000 families who use au pairs have been terrified that they are breaking the law, which is why I have brought forward the Bill. I have received telephone calls, as have Deputies around the Chamber, since March. People are asking us, as legislators, to assist and support them.

The case-by-case adjudication made by the courts or the WRC is not good for au pairs. The Bill will provide far superior protection for au pairs and host families than they enjoy. More than 50 cases are awaiting adjudication by the WRC. Many of these so-called au pairs were working up to 50 hours per week, often for two to four years, but that is not what the Bill is about. For the first time, it will make clear what is not an au pair exchange. It defines an au pair exchange as a cultural, educational exchange programme involving light child care and domestic chores in return for the host family providing lodging, hospitality and pocket money. The Bill will provide far greater protection for au pairs.

By defining clearly what is and is not an au pair exchange, the Bill will also provide far greater protection for domestic workers who are wrongly taken in under the guise of an au pair position. More often than not, in exploitation situations, the workers are taken on directly via an au pair website rather than through an intermediary such as an au pair agency. If a young person who enters into an arrangement as an au pair with a host family believes he or she is being overworked or treated unfairly, the only recourse is through the courts or the WRC.

The new arrangement proposed in the legislation provides much greater protection for au pairs with a much more easily accessible dispute resolution mechanism prior to going to the courts or the WRC.

New protections for au pairs are provided in the following manner: first, the Bill will outlaw the current practice of au pairs and host families finding each other directly via au pair exchange websites. In this scenario, a host and an au pair either enter directly into a relationship without an intermediary au pair agency, which would usually interview the potential au pair as well as the host family and identify the suitability between both. Under our legislation, for an au pair placement to be considered as such by law, au pairs and host families will have to go through an accredited agency or an intermediary. Second, the Bill provides for a written agreement between the host family and the au pair prior to entering any arrangement. These agreements will be standardised according to regulations set down by the Minister in conjunction with the sector. The written agreement will ensure both families and the au pairs enter into an arrangement with both eyes open. The agreements will set down in detail what the light child care domestic chores will involve, how many hours per day or per week and, importantly, by definition, if au pairs work in excess of these hours, they will no longer be classed as au pairs but as domestic workers. In return, the agreement will specify the lodgings that will be provided to au pairs, their access to meals and other hospitality, as well as the pocket money they will be furnished with.

While the idea of providing pocket money rather than a wage has been criticised, such criticism is misguided. It is usually more beneficial to both au pairs and to the host families for this to be considered as an informal exchange where the young person lives with the family rather than as a conventional employee-employer relationship that does not involve lodging. Some 20,000 au pairs travel to work in Ireland each year. However, if families had to register as employees and pay the current minimum wage as well as employer's PRSI while complying with employer regulations associated with the formal employer-employee relationship, the number of families taking traditional live-in au pairs would reduce significantly. We estimate the number would reduce by between 80% and 90%. The WRC ruling does not properly take into account the value of accommodation and hospitality for au pairs.

I bring my personal experience to bear in this debate. I am a mum working full time and I need the support of an au pair. My children go to school and come home at 3 p.m. but I still have to hold clinics in the evening and, therefore, I need assistance between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. That equates to six hours a day, five days a week, giving a total of 30 hours. That is the support working families are looking for. I do not see myself as a criminal but that is what I will be classified as and, therefore, I ask Members to support the Bill.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate and I compliment my colleague, Deputy Rabbitte, on bringing the legislation forward. As a party, Fianna Fáil is responding to the legal lacuna highlighted in March this year when the WRC made a ruling that threatens to undermine the tradition of au pairing, which dates back in excess of 40 years, and threatens to criminalise tens of thousands of families. The ruling highlighted the need to bring clarity to the status of au pairs in Ireland by providing a regulatory framework to protect young persons and ensure they maximise the educational experience that can be derived from this cultural exchange.

The Bill provides a legal framework to prevent the exploitation of au pairs through regulation. The WRC's determination was made in the absence of any legislation or regulation and it is up to the commission to determine the relationship between au pairs and host families. It is up to us who have been honoured to be elected to this body to legislation and to introduce regulatory frameworks. As a party, we are proposing a reasonable, proportionate system of regulation, which will protect au pairs and the tens of thousands of families, which Deputy Rabbitte has rightly identified as relying on the services of au pairs, but, most important, it will protect the children of the families who are cared for by au pairs. As legislators, we have a duty to do this.

"Prime Time" broadcast an exposé earlier this year, which showed a minority of families who exploit these young people. The legislation outlines a set of minimum standards which must be complied with; we have none currently. Families must go through an accredited agency. One of the minimum standards is a stipulation requiring a written agreement which will identify what light child care and domestic chores involve, up to a maximum of 30 hours a week in return for lodgings, hospitality and pocket money. The Bill seeks to establish an au pair council, the primary responsibility of which is the protection and vindication of the rights of au pairs. If disputes arise, there will be an agency to deal with them and if they are not happy with the agency, the au pair council can deal with them. We are setting out a clear regulatory framework to deal with this sector going forward because it has not been dealt over the past 40 years. I am annoyed by critics both inside and outside the House. They have done nothing since March and they are happy to let young people continue to be exploited and to leave tens of thousands of families be treated like criminals.

It has been stated au pairing is a substitute for cheap child care. I am one of the greatest advocates of quality, affordable child care. This legislation is not about cheap child care and, by definition, it will not be considered as another form of child care. The Bill will eliminate the black market or unregulated sector. One of the greatest flaws in the argument put forward by one of the opponents to this legislation is the attempt to equate these workers with domestic workers. There is a difference between domestic workers and au pairs. Au pairs are not domestic workers. Every other European country does not consider au pairs to be domestic workers. Au pairs travel to Ireland voluntarily to learn a language and experience Irish culture on an exchange programme. Most are from other western European countries, which also have such programmes. If they wanted to travel to be employed as domestic workers earning the minimum wage, they could do that. I am party spokesperson on tourism and I have met representatives of the Irish Hotels Federation and people working in the tourism sector who are crying out for domestic workers. People who come to work as au pairs do so out of choice. There is a clear difference between them and domestic workers.

The 1969 Council of Europe agreement on au pairs states that persons placed as au pairs belong neither to the student category or the work category but to a special category which has features of both and, therefore, it is useful to make appropriate arrangements for same. We are 47 years further on as a country but we have not done so. We, as a party, have brought forward legislation to deal with that and it is a genuine attempt at a fair, reasonable and proportionate response to the current situation. It behoves all Members to at least support the Second Stage reading and allow the Bill to pass through to Committee Stage. If amendments and improvements can be made, we will be open to that.

I very much welcome this Bill which is very much needed in order to bring legal clarity to the au pair exchange programme in Ireland. We have been in limbo since the WRC ruling in March of this year, which states that the host-au pair relationship is the same as that of an employer and employee and which does not accurately reflect the reality of the au pair exchange programme or the intention of both the au pair and the host family.

The reality is that this is a unique relationship that Ireland has participated in for many years and while the host family gets assistance with child care and housework, the au pair is very much part of the family and gets food and lodgings and an opportunity to learn or improve their English. It is a cultural exchange where both sides to that exchange benefit enormously. Deputy Rabbitte spoke passionately about the assistance the arrangement gives families, in particular families living in rural communities who do not have the same level of access to and choice of child care facilities.

The fact that there is no definition of an au pair in Irish law is clearly not adequate and we as legislators have a responsibility to address this legislative deficiency on our Statute Book. This Bill addresses this in a clear, decisive and helpful way. It is important to note, as has already been mentioned, that there are approximately 20,000 families with au pairs in Ireland and I expect they will all very much welcome the clarity this Bill provides for their situation.

I note and take account of the concerns raised by different stakeholders and groups in and around discussing this Bill. Issues of au pair exploitation have arisen due to a lack of definition of what an au pair is, a lack of regulation around the au pair exchange programme and the lack a proper legal framework within which people can operate in this country. There is no doubt that abuse of people participating in au pair programme has occurred in the past , and I do not and never will condone this behaviour and neither does the Fianna Fáil Party. Au pairs deserve to be well looked after by host families and treated with dignity and respect. It is a great privilege to welcome someone else’s child into one's home and with that comes a great responsibility. I think most families treat their au pairs as they would want their own child treated if they went abroad on a similar exchange programme. It is important to note that those bad experiences and instances of abuse and neglect are the exception and not the norm and most families provide excellent care and hospitality to their au pairs.

The Bill seeks to crack down on less regulated elements of the au pair sector by requiring that both the au pair and host family sign a written agreement through an accredited au pair agency. The Bill also provides for setting up mechanisms for hearing complaints and resolving disputes on behalf of au pairs and host families. Those are all very welcome improvements to the current situation and go towards addressing the concerns raised. If the au pair programme is to survive as an opportunity for both au pairs and host families in this country, the focus needs to remain on English language development, the cultural exchange and the inclusion in family life which the exchange offers, which is key to the programme. Employment law does nothing to protect or promote those values I mentioned.

If one makes someone an employee, it completely changes the relationship that an au pair has with their host family and we would be naive to think otherwise. We want host families to feel comfortable having someone in their home, interacting with their children and being part of the family. If an au pair is an employee and no longer a student or a young person participating on an exchange programme, there is no doubt that host families will feel nervous about this new arrangement and relationship and they will likely constantly worry about their legal position as unintended employers. Changing the relationship in this way will reduce the number of au pairs coming to Ireland and the number of families willing to take au pairs into their family home. That is something I do not want to see happen, nor, I am sure, do the majority of people in this country.

I am mindful of examples of some families that I have spoken to about this issue in my constituency of Mayo. One family in particular that would be friends of mine have had au pairs come into their home for a number of years and it has been a family arrangement. Those au pairs have been very much part of the family, have participated in family outings and events, have eaten meals at the family table and the family's children have seen them as part of the family. That is the relationship that we want to maintain. Some of those au pairs have come back to visit the family in question and the family has also travelled to the home country of au pairs to visit their families. It is that relationship we want to build upon, but if we change it into an employer-employee relationship, it damages all of that. It changes the relationship into something quite different and does not respect the unique relationship that exists under the arrangement. It does not go towards meeting the intention of the au pair and what they are seeking from that relationship and nor does it go towards meeting the intention of the host family.

In light of this I very much welcome the Bill and I am grateful for the opportunity to address the House in support of it, alongside my colleague, Deputy Rabbitte, our spokesperson on children and youth affairs, who put forward this legislation.

I thank Deputy Rabbitte for raising this important issue in her Private Members' Bill but the Government is opposing it for the reasons I will detail. I would ask Members across the floor of the Chamber to listen attentively to what I have to say.

I acknowledge that the issue of child care presents a very real difficulty on a daily basis for thousands of families across the country. However, to attempt to address this issue by dependence on unqualified and poorly remunerated overseas labour working for board, lodging and pocket money is not the way forward. Do the Members opposite truly believe that one human being should work 30 hours per week, or seven hours per day, for another in return for board, lodging and pocket money? That is why we cannot support this.

Taking away rights from such vulnerable workers will not provide the solution to the need for affordable, quality child care. The approach set out in the Bill runs counter to the Government’s approach to the affordability of quality child care which my colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, will deal with in detail later in the debate.

The Bill provides that a person of any age who participates on an au pair exchange with an agency can provide childminding, domestic chores and other household duties for 30 hours per week or seven hours per day in return for hospitality lodging and pocket money. The absence of an upper age limit in the Bill’s definition of au pair is notable as well, especially in view of the fact that the Long Title refers to the better protection of rights of young people. The Bill envisages people of all ages working for board, lodging and pocket money. The Members opposite do not see the need for some minimum level of pocket money. It could be as low as one euro. What does “7 hours a day” mean? Is it 35 hours per week? Is it 49 hours per week? How many hours per week do they expect people to work, in return for board, lodging and pocket money?

Again I reiterate that the Government fully understands the financial and other pressures faced by many working families as regards child care. I will give a few examples. Do the Members opposite realise that under our existing laws - we should look at those - a worker under 18 years of age, who lives in with meals provided, under the terms of the National Minimum Wage Act could work 31.8 hours per week for €150, when account is taken of the monetary amount that can be included as reckonable pay when board and lodgings are provided. A person over 18 years of age, and in the first year of employment, could work 27.9 hours per week on the same basis. A person over 18 years of age, and in the second year of employment, could work 24.8 hours per week, while a person over 18 years of age who has worked for more than two years could work 22.3 hours per week provided board and lodgings are provided. Those examples show how child care can be delivered within the terms of the National Minimum Wage Act. Of course, this will never match 30 hours per week, seven hours per day for board, lodging and pocket money.

The National Minimum Wage Act permits an employer to include a monetary allowance as reckonable pay if they provide an employee with full board and lodgings, which is usually the case with au pairs. The current amount for board and lodgings, namely, €54.13 per week or €7.73 per day, is set out in the National Minimum Wage Act 2000. I am conscious of the passage of time since these rates were set and it is timely perhaps that they would be reviewed with respect to board and lodgings. To this end, it is my intention as Minister of State 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 its next work programme. That is something we can seriously consider and that might be a way to solve the problem.

The Bill does not explicitly provide for an exclusion from the provisions of the National Minimum Wage Act, nor from the range of other employment rights legislation such as the Organisation of Working Time Act.

This effectively means that host families securing child care through the elaborate structures proposed in the Bill would remain open to challenges by persons working as au pairs that they are in fact employees and those families would remain exposed to potentially significant awards being made against them. It would be giving families a false sense of security while leaving them very exposed.

This brings me to an important point which needs to be emphasised in this debate and which should underpin our consideration of the Bill. National policy on employment law has consistently been to avoid the creation of sub-categories of vulnerable workers with low or no employment rights and with no access to the protections the status of employee provides. In this regard, I draw the attention of the House to the fact that during our Presidency of the EU in 2013, Ireland was to the forefront in opening the way for EU member states to ratify the ILO's domestic workers convention. We announced out intention during the Presidency and I am pleased to say that the Government ratified the convention in July 2014. The Bill represents a reversal in that policy and would cause significant reputational damage for Ireland.

One of the key strengths of our employment rights policy is that we do not discriminate between different categories of worker. 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. So far, I have centred my reasons for opposing the Bill on national employment law, but any consideration of the issue of au pairs must have regard to the rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Union. The court has considered the status of au pairs on a number of occasions and has consistently held that they are workers. The case most often cited in this regard is the Lawrie-Blum case. More recently, the Payir case reaffirmed this view. It is worth quoting from those cases. In the Lawrie-Blum case, the court said, "The term 'worker' covers any person performing for remuneration work the nature of which is not determined by him for and under the control of another, regardless of the legal nature of the employment relationship." In the Payir case, the Advocate General’s opinion stated that an au pair who looks after the host family's children and does housework for 25 to 30 hours a week will as a rule have the status of worker. We need to note the view of the Court of Justice of the European Union. It is also worth mentioning two further cases which addressed issues about remuneration. The Watson and Bellman case related to an au pair employed as a family help who looked after children in return for board and lodging. The Advocate General stated in that case, "As this would in fact be work performed for a consideration (board and lodging), she could be classed as coming within a master and servant relationship or if this were not the case she would at least come under the alternative heading of provision of services". In the Steymann case, the court accepted that remuneration can be in forms other than money, including, for example, services provided by the employer to the employee. The Bill takes no account of the position under European law as set down in the rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Union. I ask Deputy Rabbitte to consider that when she makes her submission.

In my contribution to this debate on what is an important topic, I have set out why the Government is strongly of the view that the Au Pair Placement Bill 2016 should be opposed. The heart of this stance does not rest on complex legal arguments with reference to national or EU law, although these can be made and I have referred to them here this afternoon. Instead, the Government's opposition to the Bill is based on the principle that vulnerable workers, such as those working as au pairs, need to be protected. The Government is acutely aware of the pressures facing families as regards child care. My colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, will set out the Government's position in this regard. However, it is wrong to try to address this issue by taking away rights from vulnerable workers. For that reason, the Government opposes the Bill.

I understand that Deputy Maurice Quinlivan is sharing time with Deputies Kathleen Funchion, David Cullinane and Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire. There is 15 minutes in the slot.

Sinn Féin welcomes the opportunity to discuss the regularisation of the position of au pairs and domestic workers in Ireland. Ireland may be unique in Europe in its absolute failure to provide any semblance of a national child care policy or services. The situation continues to persist in spite of the fact that since the early 1990s, we have seen increased participation by women in the labour market. Shifts in the global economy have meant that for the first time in its history, Ireland is a receiver of immigrants from countries from within and from outside the EU. This poses huge challenges in terms of the regulation of the labour market and raises real concerns about the exploitation of vulnerable workers in the hidden labour market, especially those workers who are undocumented.

In the domestic and au pair sector, the workers are almost always women. The failure to regulate has led to a domestic work sector that is now dominated by informal and irregular work carried out by both au pairs and undocumented migrants. These are two vulnerable groups who experience barriers accessing their rights and frequently remain in exploitative situations in private homes. The disconnect between labour migration policy and employment demand has created an unregulated and exploitative system. The International Labour Organisation's domestic workers convention, ratified by Ireland in 2014 as the Minister said, defines a domestic worker as a person engaged in domestic work within an employment relationship. This definition includes au pairs. Irish employment legislation applies to all workers where an employment relationship exists regardless of the job title given to the worker. Furthermore, all workers come within the remit of the Workplace Relations Commission.

Sinn Féin favours the regulation of the au pair sector but we do not feel the Au Pair Placement Bill 2016 achieves this. The Bill will undermine domestic workers' rights and create a flawed and unnecessary hierarchy of rights within the sector. The proposed definition of "au pair" within the Bill is vague and lacks clarity. The Bill fails to provide a clear definition of "light housework" or "light domestic duties". This is a key weakness that has been exposed in other jurisdictions that have au pair schemes. The focus of the Bill is too narrow as it proposes no more than a 30 hour working week.

The Bill will also require resources in order to establish and run an au pair accreditation council to be tasked with the protection of the rights of au pairs. However, a body already exists in the Workplace Relations Commission and this proposal undermines its work. It is clear that the sector needs to be regulated, but Fianna Fáil's Bill to categorise au pairs as cultural exchange participants will result in a domestic worker scheme which creates an underclass of migrant domestic workers who have been put out of reach of labour law protections. This is not acceptable as migrant women are more at risk of poverty and suffer in relation to the gender pay gap. Addressing the exploitation of au pairs requires the enforcement of existing laws, resourcing the WRC and informing the public of their responsibilities as employers.

While the Bill acknowledges the need for the regulation of this sector, Sinn Féin cannot support it as it does not go far enough. It is not sufficient in its current form and in its recommendations as my colleagues have and will continue to outline in their contributions. As party spokesperson on child care, I will focus briefly on the elephant in the room, which is the cost of child care. The lack of affordable, accessible and quality child care remains one of the biggest crises across the State. Parents, workers, child care services and children continue to suffer as a result.

Child care should be regarded as a public service for both children and parents and, as such, we should address the issues in the sector with the same consideration we give to other levels of education. The major factor in and root cause of the huge increase in the use of au pairs is the cost of child care. Ireland's child care costs are considered the most expensive in the EU and are second to only to the USA worldwide. The cost ranges from €800 to €1,000 euro per month dependant on location. OECD figures show that the fees paid by a low-income, dual-earner family in Ireland with two young children consume at least 35% of the family's net income. For a lone parent family on the average wage, the fees amount to 40% of income in contrast to just 10% to 13 % across the EU. The jump in the number of families employing au pairs should come, therefore, as little surprise.

There has always been a history of au pairs, traditionally European, coming to Ireland and working with families, but the increase of recent years is down to the lack of affordable, accessible and quality child care for many families. Many parents look towards the au pair sector to fill this gap.

The Bill provides no detail of what "light housework" and "light domestic duties" entail. The prospect of having an au pair mind one's child or children in one's own home for as little as €120 per week with the added bonus of house cleaning and whatever else a family requires is an enticing option for many parents who are struggling to balance the cost of child care with what they earn.

Responsibility for the protection of these workers lies with the Government. There is also an onus on au pair recruitment agencies to be aware of and comply with the Employment Agency Act 1971. Trends indicate a growing number of migrant women working in unregulated child care, in other words, an informal workforce providing care in private homes. The Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, MRCI, has identified an increase in the pattern of exploitation experienced by au pairs. We support the MRCI's call for an immediate and co-ordinated response by the Government and the National Employment Rights Authority, NERA, to ensure that the employment rights of au pair workers are upheld and enforced, with particular emphasis on recruitment agencies and direct employers.

We will not support the Bill, as it does not go far enough and is not sufficient in its current form.

I do not doubt that the Bill's authors are well intentioned and want to address a serious issue. I commend them on at least allowing us the opportunity to debate this matter. It is always helpful when people introduce Bills and solutions. If we believed that there was any chance that the Bill could be improved, we would have allowed it to move on to Committee Stage. Previously, we supported Opposition and Government Bills, including some moved by Fianna Fáil, when we believed them worthy of our support or capable of being improved. However, we must also be honest on this occasion. In this instance, the Bill is so fundamentally flawed and regressive that we are not in a position to support it.

Au pairs have fought a battle to be seen as workers. Recent WRC decisions have confirmed that they are workers and entitled to the full protection of the law. In introducing a Bill on if-and-when contracts last week, we showed that workers' rights needed to be improved. We must approach the question of au pairing not just from the point of view of children or those who employ au pairs, but of the au pairs themselves.

The attempt in the Bill to reframe au pairing as something other than work indicates that employment rights are not at its centre. Interestingly, it was a Fine Gael Minister of State who first mentioned employment rights in this debate, which shows that politics has well and truly been turned on its head. The Bill replaces the minimum wage, which is a statutory rate, with the phrase "pocket money", which is not given any legal definition in the Bill. Nor does one exist in any current legislation. What constitutes "pocket money"? Is it €10, €20, €50 or €100 per week?

The Bill would establish an independent public authority for accreditation of au pair agencies, but no details are given as to how that would work and no powers are transferred to the authority. All of this is to be worked out by the Minister in question, with the main sanction placed not on the family exploiting the au pair if such a case arises, but on the agency that allocated the au pair to the family in the first instance. This means that a family could break its contract with an au pair in terms of pocket money and not receive any sanction whatsoever. Currently, the family is at least responsible for payment of the minimum wage, whereas the Bill's legal come-back is on the agency, which may receive a written warning from a board that has yet to be established.

I wish to be constructive, but Deputy Troy stated that some people who were critical of the Bill had done nothing. Was he referring to the MRCI, which has rightly articulated its concerns, other organisations, the Government, the Opposition or the trade union movement, which has offered reasonable objections to a broad Bill? I want him to correct the record of the House. I hope that he is not referring to the MRCI, which has lobbied all of us and has strong views on this issue.

I am the Sinn Féin spokesperson on workers' rights and if I believed that the Bill could be improved on Committee Stage, I would support it. We gave this issue due consideration, but we are not in a position to support the Bill because it is flawed and regressive. That said, I acknowledge that its authors are well intentioned in wanting to address this issue. Perhaps the relevant committee can re-examine the matter, find different solutions and propose a Bill or other measure that receives the support of the House.

Like Deputy Cullinane, I acknowledge that the intentions behind this legislation are well meant, but while there may be a requirement to provide legislative clarity following last year's judgment, this Bill is not that legislation. We must recognise that au pairs provide a service, are workers and must consequently enjoy minimum working conditions, which we would all expect for ourselves were we migrant workers.

Is ceist cearta oibre atá i gceist anseo, agus caithfidh go mbeadh tosaíocht aige seo thar aon ní eile, cinnte thar an éileamh ag teaghlaigh ar chúram leanaí ar chostais íseal, b'fhéidir ar chostas ró-íseal. This is a child care issue. Deputy Funchion outlined how the exorbitant cost of child care is a major burden on families. However, it is also a workers' rights issue. We must ensure that the rights of these workers are protected and that this or any legislation introduced with the same intention does not allow other domestic workers to be undercut or any category of workers to have protections lesser than currently exist in the Industrial Relations Act 1990.

Tá lochtanna a bhaineann leis an tslí a bhaineann an reachtaíocht seo le scoláirí ó taobh amuigh den AE, le Visa Mac Léinn, mar shampla, os rud é go bhfuil uamhéid am oibre de 20 uair an seachtain acu in ionad an 30 atá tagartha anseo. The MRCI, which has done a great deal of work in this area and lobbied us all. It states, "The proposed bill undermines the mandate and the expertise of the WRC, suggesting instead that resources be sunk into the establishment and running of an Au Pair Accreditation Council – a wholly unjustifiable cost to the taxpayer". It goes on to say that the introduction of such an au pair system would seriously undermine our legal commitments under the ILO Convention 189 Decent Work for Domestic Workers. The MRCI does important and valuable work. Through that work and the MRCI's campaigns, it should be clear to us all that there is considerable exploitation of migrant workers in Ireland. There are numerous examples, with the case of Muhammad Younis coming to mind immediately. A body of research shows that exploitation of migrant workers is not isolated to a few incidents.

This sector requires concise legislation that addresses all aspects and issues holistically rather than through a bit-part approach. Tá gá le reachtaíocht leis an staid reatha, tar éis an cás cúirte níos luaithe sa bhliain, a cheartú, ach ní hí seo an reachtaíocht. As has been pointed out by my colleagues, there appears to be a closed-minded view that au pairs come to Ireland to further their grasp of English as well as gain cultural experience. There is little acknowledgement of the work carried out by au pairs and the way in which that work contributes to families. Work is work and must be treated and paid as such. Remuneration at below the minimum wage is not something that we should encourage by any means. The current situation allows opportunities for those housing au pairs to avail of a cheap childminding service. We cannot allow the interests of families and agencies to trump that of the workers.

Aside from au pairs, there is a great deal of unregulated childminding, some of which is relatively benign, but some of which involves exploitation and childminders being paid less than the minimum wage. This affects migrant and non-migrant workers and is an issue to which the House should revert. Mar sin, ní féidir linn tacú leis an reachtaíocht seo, os rud é go bhfuil imní orainn faoi na himpleachtaí do oibrithe.

Deputy Sherlock has seven minutes, but in the absence of the unaligned Deputies, he has nine minutes.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle. If the unaligned Deputies present themselves, I will be happy to share time with them.

I have no hesitation in agreeing that au pair hosting is a valuable tradition. It can benefit both host families and young foreign visitors who are helped in a domestic environment to improve language skills and enjoy a positive cultural experience. None of us wants to undermine the viability of genuine au pair arrangements, but we must recognise there are two sides to this story. Not all experiences are mutually beneficial. We must also recognise that this Bill, no matter how it is presented, is aimed at removing statutory protections that are currently enjoyed. Until now, au pairs have not been treated as a separate category of worker in our employment law. If there is an agreement to do work, regardless of what title one gives the worker, he or she is entitled to the benefit of our employment protection laws, including on the national minimum wage.

A realistic debate on this issue has to take into account the facts on the ground. It seems clear that in many cases au pairs are being used as underpaid domestic workers because of our crisis in child care provision. For example, last year’s survey by Migrant Rights Centre Ireland showed an age profile for au pairs that does not match the popular perception. It showed that 37% had no contract at all and 40% a verbal contract only. Some 20% had paid a fee to get the job, 38% were expected to work more than originally agreed, 31% had been asked to work when they were sick, 58% were paid €120 or less per week, one in ten did not have her own bedroom, and one in five was expected to be on call at night. A balance is needed here. On the one hand, au pair relationships are unique and deserve to be fostered. I agree that the allowance for providing board and lodging, which can be deducted from the minimum wage but which was last properly examined in 2000, needs to be reviewed urgently. On the other hand, I do not believe the best way to regularise activity in the sector is simply to exempt individuals who are legally employed on an employer–employee basis from our entire suite of employment rights legislation.

One should remember that, traditionally understood, au pairs are here primarily to improve their English. They stay here as language students and the domestic setting is an adjunct to the time spent in a language school or college. It is important to bear this in mind when considering how much time an au pair should be required to devote to what this Bill describes as "light domestic duties". Section 2(1)(b) of the legislation states a criterion for placement is that one “be a non-citizen of the EU ordinarily resident in the Republic of Ireland with a student entry visa as prescribed by Ministerial Order under the Immigration Act 2004."

Our immigration laws restrict part-time students to working no more than 20 hours per week. I see no reason we should expect au pairs to work longer than other students for less pay in an entirely unprotected statutory environment and to the detriment of the studies that bring them here in the first place. The objectives of the Bill are inadequate. For example, it proposes an au pair accreditation council to perform important statutory functions but it does not make any provision in respect of the membership of the council, who gets to appoint the members and to whom they are accountable. The Bill does not explicitly state au pairs are exempt from minimum wage legislation, which I presume is its central purpose and the reason for the reference to “pocket money”.

There are so many questions raised but left unanswered by this Bill that my party and I cannot support it. It seems to us to be designed more to meet the demands of those in the au pair sector who want light alternative regulation rather than registering as employment agencies than it is designed to meet the needs of families or au pairs themselves. Perhaps the Deputy who is proposing the Bill might respond to that. I do not make that point as a charge. We are all inherently in favour of what the sector delivers for families and the au pairs themselves in terms of the experience they gain. However, we want to ensure we have the right motives when presenting legislation of this nature.

It may be that wholesale amendment could improve the Bill but we would not in any circumstances support a legislative regime brought in simply to ensure foreign au pairs could be used in an unprotected way as a resource to meet a need that is not being met within the domestic labour market.

We will proceed to the Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit Deputies. Deputy Ruth Coppinger is sharing her time with Deputy Bríd Smith. They have nine minutes between them.

We will be moving an amendment to the Bill.

I ask those who introduced the Bill to consider withdrawing it because it has some serious defects. I welcome the au pairs in the Visitors Gallery. Can we stop using the term “au pair”? We are talking about child care workers. I welcome also the members of Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, who have made many submissions on this Bill and who are completely opposed to it.

It is mystifying and very strange that one of the first Bills Fianna Fáil introduces in this Parliament is on such a subject. The Bill is very patronising, regressive and sexist. It refers to 30 hours of light domestic “help”, not labour. Obviously, when women do work, it is not actually labour; it is help. The Bill treats so-called au pairs as non-workers and refers to "pocket money" for 30 hours’ work. I seriously ask the sponsors of the Bill to consider withdrawing it before they do any more damage. Camouflaging exploitation in a cultural exchange has no justification.

The Bill peddles a very dangerous myth, namely, that au pairs - child care workers - are students in a gap year having a bit of craic and fun while staying with a host family and learning a language. That is not the reality. The reality is that the individuals are child care workers who are generally older women. They are mothers themselves, for God’s sake. They have children themselves to support. It is not pocket money that they are doing the work for. They are trying to send money home in many cases. They are women, workers and mothers, and this is borne out by the statistics. Most of those concerned are aged between 30 and 35. Let us please stop peddling these very dangerous myths and undermining workers’ rights.

There is a perception that people are learning a language and engaging in a cultural exchange. It is not the first time I have heard this. There was an article on this subject in The Irish Times by John McManus on 9 March 2016. I do not know whether anyone present read it but they should do so. It refers to an au pair from Italy who was dizzy and baked cakes all the time. It is stated the family had to repair damage to the table, costing "a multiple of what we were paying her". This says it all about the patronising attitude of these wealthy people to employing other people. They were giving out that the au pair was talking to her boyfriend on Skype in her bedroom. What she does in her bedroom is her own business. It is as if one owns the au pair lock, stock and barrel. Let us end this abuse of people. The individuals are not live-in slaves. People should have rights. These rights should be set down and people should be respected for what they do.

In a recent case in March, a Spanish au pair, so-called, won an award of almost €10,000 and was supported by Migrant Rights Centre Ireland. It was established that such individuals are women workers who are entitled to be treated like workers and to be paid at least the minimum wage. However, that is not what occurs.

Before coming to the Chamber, I spoke to an au pair who works 35 hours per week for €110, which equates to €2.50 per hour, and must pay for food at weekends because the family does not provide any. It is not always the case, therefore, that au pairs receive bed and board.

I live in a constituency with a large number of young families and probably the youngest population in the country. Child care is a major issue for my constituents and if the Fianna Fáil Party had proposed a Bill on child care, I would have said "fair play" and sought to amend it, where necessary. Instead, the party introduced legislation that will not do anything for child care workers and will only benefit people who want to exploit them.

The Bill sets out a list of duties for au pairs. I do not know if au pairs would have any energy after completing 30 hours of domestic work, chores and childminding. People seem to believe childminding is easy but those who mind children know that is not the case. We must stop treating everything women do as second class. The prescribed duties amount to labour and, as such, au pairs are entitled to be treated the same way as any other worker is treated. They should also earn a hell of a lot more than the minimum wage.

Unfortunately, international experience has shown accreditation is mainly bogus. Despite this, I am willing to engage in a discussion on accreditation. Our amendment calls on the Fianna Fáil Party not to proceed with the Bill at this point because it could jeopardise a number of cases due to come before the Workplace Relations Commission.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following:

“Dáil Éireann:

notes that:

— recent Workplace Relations Commission findings have not altered any legislation affecting those who work as Au Pairs in the State;

— while some current arrangements based on legitimate cultural exchange may be beneficial to families and students, the House should enact no Bill that could restrict the rights of workers to access the Workplace Relations Commission;

— 30 to 40 cases alleging gross overwork and exploitation of workers are pending at the Workplace Relations Commission and these workers have a right to have their cases heard and adjudicated on; and

— the childcare crisis in this State cannot and should not be resolved by legislation that seeks to restrict workers access to labour laws and existing protections;

resolves to:

— allow the Workplace Relations Commission continue to investigate and hear all such cases;

— value the work done by those in child minding and as domestic workers throughout the State;

— investigate the provision of affordable childcare for parents and all workers;

— adhere to the International Labour Organisation’s convention 189 on ‘Decent Work for Domestic Workers’; and

— to investigate the possible need for future regulations concerning cultural exchange students resident in domestic households; and

declines to give a Second Reading to the Au Pair Placement Bill 2016.”

I recognise and accept that for many young people - it was certainly the case when I was young - au pairing was a means of travelling abroad to stay with a family and learn a language. It was an exciting time for young women, and as a young woman I had a good experience as an au pair in Germany where I worked with a wonderful family. I acknowledge the legitimate concerns some people have about possible changes which they fear may end the au pair experience for families and students who had a good experience of au pairing in the past.

There is, however, a much different experience involved in what is known as au pairing and staying with a host family. The purpose of the amendment is to change the reality of this experience. If the Bill is passed, the first consequence, intended or otherwise, would be to legitimise some of the worst examples of gross exploitation of workers, primarily migrant women who often lack the language skills to defend themselves. Many au pairs work for as little as €100 per week and, as Deputy Coppinger pointed out, when we use the word "work", we mean real work. The type of work done by women in the home is both physical and mental. Caring for young children, preparing food and cleaning a home are not light domestic duties but hard bloody work. The role of an au pair does not involve making the odd cup of coffee or preparing a meal here or there. It is demanding work which must be respected and treated as such.

The Migrant Rights Centre carried out an important and thorough study which revealed some startling facts. It found that 98% of respondents were women aged between 31 and 35 years. I was a good deal younger than that when I visited Germany as an au pair. The level of au pairing being done by women of this age indicates that au pairing is not, as many people believe, about young people having a bit of craic and learning a language.

I fundamentally agree with the view that the Bill would legitimise the abuse of workers by removing their right to access the Workplace Relations Commission, notwithstanding the weaknesses of that body. It would end the protection afforded to these workers under the law and remove protection against bullying. For this reason, we strongly oppose the legislation. Au pairs have a right to access the labour laws of the countries in which they reside. The Bill, if passed, would be a retrograde step.

It is interesting to note that Fianna Fáil proposed the Bill. We have received letters from teachers and other workers who point out that they rely on au pairs to provide child care. They are concerned that child care may become much more expensive. It is clear that what is needed is a proper system of affordable, subsidised child care that will meet the needs of women workers. Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party have failed to provide such a system.

This is probably the first time virtually all Deputies have opposed a Bill. The Migrant Rights Centre and the Mandate trade union, both of which have many dealings with migrant workers, oppose the Bill because it fundamentally weakens the rights and protections afforded to workers. Domestic workers are housekeepers, childminders, nannies and au pairs, all of whom are covered by employment law, including in respect of the minimum wage. All domestic workers, including au pairs, come under the remit of the Workplace Relations Commission.

In recent years, Ireland strengthened the rights of domestic workers, from ratifying the International Labour Organization's domestic workers convention to introducing protection for workers in diplomats' households and commencing labour inspections of private homes. These and other advances have made Ireland a relatively safe country for domestic workers, although there is always room for improvement in this regard.

A survey carried out by the Migrant Rights Centre in 2015, which involved 550 au pairs, found that 98% of respondents were aged between 31 and 35 years, 80% did not have a written contract and 58% were paid less than €120 per week. The idea that au pairs are young people taking part in a cultural exchange aimed at improving their English does not correspond to the reality of exploitation experienced by workers in this area.

This Bill is staggering. It defines au pair placement as a cultural, learning and educational exchange that would include not more than 30 hours per week or seven hours per day spent doing light domestic duties in exchange for hospitality, lodgings and pocket money. The Fianna Fáil Party must define the terms "light domestic duties" and "pocket money".

What we need is not the Bill before us but the enforcement of existing law and an insistence that the agencies involved in au pairing make families and employers aware of their obligations under employment law. The Government must also provide the Workplace Relations Commission with the resources it needs to carry out inspections.

Au pairing was an ad hoc system for many years. My experience of it over many years was mainly positive as it involved people from other countries, primarily young girls, coming here to learn English while enjoying the benefits of living safely as part of an Irish family where they were included in all family events and holidays. The work involved was certainly not onerous and au pairs were not used as full-time housekeepers or child care workers. In many cases, the relationship between the au pair and the host family continued for years after the au pair's stay ended.

In some cases, agencies were used, while in others the arrangements were made privately, with perhaps a friend of the au pair taking her place. This system had learning English at its core. Au pairs did not come here to earn money as such and this was evident in the type of light work they did. My experience of the au pair system, which is based on what I have been told by people I know who used it, is that au pairs were treated as members of the family, were given their own room in the home and had time to attend classes. They had free time and the arrangement was generally voluntary and private. Unfortunately, the system has changed.

Deputies are familiar with the ruling by the Workplace Relations Commission in the case of a Spanish au pair, which provided that au pairs should be paid at least the minimum wage. We must also take into account the findings of a recent survey by the Migrant Rights Centre, which showed that the au pair system is being exploited. According to the Migrant Rights Centre, the Bill would "create an underclass of migrant domestic worker completely removed from the reach of labour law protections". The results of the centre's survey of more than 500 people were alarming, particularly on the issue of working hours. They indicate that there has been a significant move away from the original idea of what an au pair should do. We are informed that the work done by au pairs far exceeds what is defined as light domestic work and amounts to much more than a few hours of work per week.

The au pair system was underpinned by good intentions but it is being used to provide cheap labour on the pretext of being a cultural exchange.

The fears and concerns of those who support workers in various settings must be taken seriously. Migrant Rights Centre Ireland data suggest the majority of au pairs in Ireland are different now. Many are older than before and many have degrees from universities in their home countries. They are expected to do far more work than under the original system. This work certainly does not come under the definition of light housework by anyone's interpretation.

I do not understand the proposed council which could simply be another layer of unnecessary bureaucracy. We already have the Workplace Relations Commission. Why is it not doing more? It is not being given the resources or funding to do so. I fear that the proposed council could simply become another Private Residential Tenancies Board with limited powers of enforcement.

Anyone coming to this country to work, whatever the setting, should have protection and be free from exploitation. To the extent that such persons do experience exploitation, there must be recourse to a legal system that will protect them. If we are being told that the au pair culture has changed and that there is exploitation, we must take this on board. I do not believe the Bill will do anything in that regard.

It is unfortunate that those families who treat au pairs in a far more positive and inclusive way as part of the family are being blacklisted with those who have been exploiting workers.

I am completely opposed to the Bill which has been put before us by Fianna Fáil. It is outdated and irrelevant, as well as degrading. It attempts to further erode the rights of workers. Au pairs are recognised as workers, but Fianna Fáil prefers to see them being classified in a subcategory of worker to justify the importation of cheap labour for domestic and child-care duties. It calls this form of exploitation a tradition and takes the view that providing for greater regulation of the sector is the solution. It is perpetuating two dominant myths, the first of which is that au pairs are young and inexperienced individuals from throughout the European Union, as if to suggest they do not deserve adequate pay. The second is that they come here as part of an education and cultural exchange programme. According to Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, only a small percentage of au pairs are under 21 years of age. Its casework to date reveals that the majority are older and highly educated, often with third level degrees obtained from universities in their home countries. Moreover, they are often experienced in a variety of professional fields, aside from child-minding qualifications.

The Bill also uses the flawed concept that there is a cultural exchange programme in place. There is no such programme. It is an outdated concept and there has not been such a programme in any real way since its heyday in the 1970s. Fianna Fáil may claim that there is a programme of this nature in place. The Bill will ensure a so-called cultural exchange will be used as an excuse to import cheap domestic and child-care labour. Tying an au pair to a cultural exchange programme, as opposed to the status of a domestic worker - this is what they deserve to be called - would only weaken the protection of au pair migrants in destination countries and bring about the following consequences. First, in respect of remuneration, the pocket money allocated would be below the minimum wage. Second, with regard to residency status, the temporary visa would be tied to the au pair contract. Third, the protection of the worker would be limited as the control of the employer or host family and the working environment would be beyond their reach.

I find it damning that Fianna Fáil has criticised the Workplace Relations Commission's ruling last March on payments to a Spanish au pair because it believes the arrangement should have been considered to be part of a cultural or educational exchange programme rather than work. Substandard illegal jobs continue to be advertised by au pair placement agencies. They fall well below the national minimum legal standards. These agencies are employment agencies within the meaning of the Employment Agency Act. As such, they should be required to hold a licence to carry on business.

I am delighted to welcome the Bill. It is vital that the au pair sector be protected and that the role of the au pair be given a legal definition. I compliment the proposer of the Bill, Deputy Anne Rabbitte, and hope the Bill passes through the Dáil.

I do not believe the Workplace Relations Commission's ruling earlier this year was the correct one for this sector. That is my personal opinion. Arrangements for participants in the au pair programme are significantly different from those for simple domestic workers owing to the cultural aspects of the programme and the accommodation provided for them. This must be taken into account. The programme embraces cultures and there is a long tradition of having au pairs in this country. While there might have been some bad apples and cases of bad treatment - we cannot accept this under any circumstances - I am not in favour of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The au pair exchange programme involves interaction between two cultures. However, it is also important that au pairs not be abused.

I welcome the establishment of an oversight body which will accredit au pair agencies and hear complaints from those working for Irish families. This is important. Agencies must be examined and there must be careful scrutiny. I do not want to see another quango being set up. It would be another big organisation. However, I certainly want to see oversight and respect for those au pairs who come here. The proposal will ensure they are respected. This represents a good effort to find a balance to ensure the needs of families are met and au pairs are protected.

I know that there have been numerous cases of au pairs being taken advantage of, which is deeply regrettable. However, it would also be regrettable if the idea of having an au pair staying with a family to look after children were to disappear or be driven underground. That would leave au pairs in a far worse position. Often we bring forward regulations without thinking of undertaking an impact assessment. If the sector was to be driven underground, it would be akin to slave labour and there would be widespread abuse. We do not want to see this happen either.

The rising cost of child care must be addressed. It must also be acknowledged that not all families are in a position to send their children to the various child care settings. There are differences of opinion in this regard. I was involved in the setting up of a voluntary crèche, a naíonra. The State has put all of the focus on preschool services in the provision of the free preschool year and the second free preschool year announced in the last budget. However, in many cases, this is of little or no benefit to families owing to the manner in which the programme is run. This is not a reflection on the way those involved run the various organisations but rather on the system. This issue must be re-examined and the focus must be shifted towards supporting families who need child care services.

The au pair programme simply involves one setting. Not only does it provide foreign students with an opportunity to learn about our culture, it also allows young children in families to learn about the culture of the country from where the au pair comes. It is important that we do not lose sight of the exchange element. The programme has been very beneficial to many families and is a two-way street. I knew several au pairs who had a wonderful time with families here and enjoyed the language and cultural exchange and living in Ireland with Irish families.

Au pairs should be welcomed. What has happened to the Ireland of the thousand welcomes, the céad míle fáilte? They must be welcomed to learn about life with an Irish family, our heritage and culture. They must be given the opportunity to learn about an teanga, más féidir linn, the Irish language, Irish dance, take music lessons, etc. If that is the purpose of the programme, their role should not be limited to minding children or doing housework for several hours without a break. There must be limits and respect, an important word in this regard. It must always be a two-way street.

I have relatives who have travelled to work as au pairs in other countries. They appreciated the opportunity given to them, the accommodation and the pocket money they received in return for light work and minding the children. In the main, they had good experiences. We all want it to be a friendly engagement, a learning engagement and, above all, an enjoyable experience for the au pair. I also know, however, that difficulties can arise in other countries between a family and an au pair. This is not unusual, but it should not be used as a reason to get rid of the programme, effectively by stealth. We must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, if one pardons the pun.

Deputy Thomas Pringle is right about the people who come here. They are now of a different age and have a range of experiences.

The situation has evolved and it is not the young students who used to come in the past. They can be of different ages and have various qualifications. They are well capable of minding themselves and making complaints if there are issues. It is important that we would have an oversight agency to which complaints can be brought. We should also look very seriously at the agencies facilitating the au pairs who show interest in being placed with families.

I know there are concerns about abuse and any abuse of au pairs should be dealt with seriously. However, it would be incorrect to treat them in the same way as domestic workers without any acknowledgement of the cultural aspect.

The Bill represents a move in the right direction to try to have some regulation and have some respect for the situation of au pairs without destroying the scheme completely. It has operated for countless decades. I have had very many valuable experiences. I never had one in my family home, but I know of many families who have. I saw the au pairs with them on many outings and different engagements with children and with the rest of the family themselves. They holidayed with them and brought them to different cultural events in Ireland to give them a real taste of Éireann go brea. It is very important that they would have that taste for culture. We always need to keep that to the forefront to sell our culture, our heritage, our dúchas.

Au pairs should enjoy it when they come and it should be a memorable experience so that if they have enjoyed their time in Ireland they would recommend to others to come here. Those who have been au pairs can be ambassadors and support the scheme by telling people about their good experiences. If they have bad experiences, they should inform the State and it should be stamped out.

I support the Bill.

I call Deputy Butler, who is sharing time with Deputies O'Loughlin and Chambers.

This Bill is required to bring legal clarity to the situation of au pair exchanges in Ireland. As has been stated here today, in March 2016, the Workplace Relations Commission made a ruling on au pair payments which, in my opinion, undermines the tradition of au pair arrangements in Ireland. Rather than being considered as an educational or cultural exchange, the WRC ruled that the host-au pair relationship is the same as that of an employer and employee. This means that host families must pay au pairs the statutory minimum wage, pay employer PRSI contributions, and maintain a detailed record of hours worked and duties undertaken.

That food and lodgings are supplied in most cases is not taken into consideration. The Minister of State said that he could not support the Bill because "to attempt to address this issue by dependence on unqualified and poorly remunerated overseas labour working for board, lodging and pocket money certainly is not the way forward". The Minister of State went on to say that the current amount for board and lodgings was €54.13 a week. I welcome that he said it would have to be looked at. I have put a son through five years in UCC and I certainly could not find board and lodgings for €54.13 for a week. I have a daughter who has just completed a year in Mary Immaculate College and she had to pay closer to €180 a week.

The Bill defines an au pair placement in line with its traditional definition and I think that has been lost in translation here today. The traditional definition is as a cultural, learning and educational exchange rather than as an employee-employer relationship. It adopts a definition of au pairs which is standard in other EU countries. It also attempts to crack down on less regulated elements of the au pair sector.

The Minister of State also referred to the seven hours a week - or is that 49 hours. Section 2(c) clearly states that this must "involve no more than 30 hours per week, or 7 hours per day".

Seven by seven is 49.

On page 4, section 2(c) clearly states that this must "involve no more than 30 hours per week, or 7 hours per day". So it is no more than 30 hours per week.

Seven by seven is 49.

I am not saying there has not been exploitation in this area in the past; of course there has been. However, this is the reason legislation is required in this area. This Bill provides for superior protections for au pairs and host families than are currently in place. By clearly defining what is and what is not an au pair exchange, the Bill also provides far greater protections for domestic workers who are taken on under the guise of an au pair.

A new public body will be set up to provide accreditation to au pair agencies and ensure new standards are upheld. Importantly, the Bill also establishes new mechanisms for hearing complaints and resolving disputes on behalf of au pairs and host families. Without legislative action on this issue, au pairing will be a thing of the past and 20,000 families in Ireland will be left in limbo.

As a newly elected Deputy from Kildare, the issue of au pair placement was one of the first that crossed the threshold of my office in Newbridge. It was a matter that had arisen during the campaign. I commend Deputy Rabbitte on the swift manner in which she has brought the Bill before us. I also welcome those in the Gallery who are here to give support for this Bill and also to seek protection for themselves and the visitors from abroad whom they welcome into their homes.

Much has been said about the WRC's landmark decision involving the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland. With this case, MRCI has quite correctly exposed the fact that very occasionally au pairing is being used as a cover for the exploitation of illegal immigrants as child-care workers. That exploitation needs to be exposed and we must ensure that we, as a society, stamp it out. However, I passionately believe this is absolutely the exception rather than the rule. I have witnessed very warm, loving families extending their welcome and great friendship to the au pairs they have in their homes.

I welcome legislation to ensure au pairs and host families are fully aware of their rights and responsibilities. Like Deputy Bríd Smith, I have had the very positive experience of being an au pair abroad and I have always resisted the idea of classifying au pairs as domestic workers whereby the spirit and tradition of the au pair being welcomed as part of the family to learn the language would be lost.

The lack of definition of "au pair" in Irish legislation has created a legal limbo for both host families and au pairs. On average 20,000 households host au pairs in Ireland each year. Most of them come from other EU countries and participate on English language programmes while here. Au pair placement agencies have indicated that this could be reduced by 80% if legislation is not brought in to give clarity to the au pair-host family relationship. This is a very common situation in Kildare given that 50% of workers living in Kildare work outside the county. I know many families who rely on the au pair system to help support their working lifestyles, and who consequently have developed lifelong friendships and relationships both interpersonal and with our country.

Many au pairs' families come to visit and travel our country supporting Irish tourism. Essentially, the au pair is an individual who wishes to improve his or her knowledge of the English language by undertaking an au pair arrangement through residing with a family. These families, who have used reputable agencies, now find themselves in limbo.

Families now feel that their way of life is under attack. They have tailored their working hours, other child-care arrangements and even their choice of schools to be able to engage in au pair arrangements. In many cases these are families to which I referred last Friday when supporting the repeal of FEMPI. Public servants who have been hit hard over the past seven years need to find the best arrangement to suit their families, as they continue to work.

Deputy Coppinger read into the record correspondence that she received. I wish to read into the record correspondence I received from a constituent yesterday. This public servant contacted me initially in March, concerned as to how her family would continue to function if she could no longer bring au pairs into her home. This teacher, mother, wife and education colleague articulated very clearly her concerns. She initially thought she would not be able to attend today's debate, as she would have no one to look after her boys while she was collecting her au pair of two years ago from the airport at lunchtime.

The au pair came back because she wanted to spend time here. She agreed to mind the children and be with them while their mother attended this debate.

There is much more I would like to say about this issue, but I will hand over to my colleague, Deputy Jack Chambers.

I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak about this topic. I acknowledge the great work of my colleague, Deputy Anne Rabbitte, in bringing forward the Bill. Since the Workplace Relations Commission's ruling in March this year, the issue of au pairs and the work they do has been shrouded in confusion. The legal and regulatory vacuum needs to be addressed in a proper and prudent way through legislation. What happened in the case brought before the Workplace Relations Commission was a disgrace. It breached all of the rights we want to uphold in this House. It is important to bring regulatory and legal clarity to this issue, rather than burying the cultural process of the au pair. Deputy Anne Rabbitte strikes the necessary balance in her Bill. Owing to the absence of legislation in this area, the Workplace Relations Commission took the approach of equating au pairs with domestic workers, thereby ignoring the cultural and other benefits au pairs gained from their work. I have been contacted by many families who have informed me that, owing to the high cost of child care, au pairs are the only form of affordable child care available to them.

The Deputy is accepting that they are child care workers.

The families to whom I refer, unlike the family in the Workplace Relations Commission case, value and appreciate the work au pairs undertake. It is not an overstatement to say that, in many cases, au pairs become part of the family. Most au pairs have positive experiences with families here. The recruitment of most au pairs occurs via the Internet, which means that there is no opportunity for them to properly assess their working conditions and environment. This can lead to a host of problems and open up the au pair to potential exploitation. If the Bill is passed, the au pair and the host family will both have to sign a written agreement and go through an accredited au pair agency if the au pair exchange is to be considered legitimate. The written agreement will set out in precise detail the type of work in which the au pair will be engaged and the hours involved. As we have heard, au pairs will be required to work for no more than 30 hours a week and no more than seven hours a day. The Bill also provides for the establishment of mechanisms to hear complaints and resolve disputes on behalf of au pairs and host families. It is important to note that concerns have been raised by interest groups in this area which have an important role to play in ensuring the sector operates properly. The legislation will empower groups representing au pairs to ensure they are not being exploited or taken advantage of. I hope they will engage fully with the plans for the reform of this area. I am disappointed that the Minister has rejected the Bill. The Government has chosen instead to bury the au pair process underground, where au pairs will have no rights. The effects of the Government's undermining of the process will be seen in the future. It is a great disappointment.

This House has rejected exploitation time and again. It runs contrary to our beliefs to undercut wages, abuse labour laws and trample on the rights of others. Such behaviour runs contrary to the ideals and vision of the heroes of the 1916 Rising which has been commemorated and celebrated this year. I believe the Deputies opposite share these values. Next Friday which marks the 89th anniversary of the death of Countess Markievicz I will join others in marking the role of women in 1916. As feminists, we will celebrate equality. We have been on a long journey in the past 100 years. We have achieved the right to vote, the right of married women to work and the right to equal pay for equal work. With these thoughts in mind, I appeal to the Deputies across from me to look again at what is being proposed in the Bill.

I want to be clear about whose rights we are talking about. As others have suggested, we are not talking about young European women in a gap year or part of a cultural exchange. Generally, we are talking about women between the ages of 30 and 35 years, a significant number of whom are from Brazil. Other Deputies have mentioned that the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland, MRCI, the front-line organisation in this regard, has reported that as many as 98% of these women are in their 30s, with half of them coming from South America. The MRCI's research which is supported by Pobal, the Department of Justice and Equality and the European Commission has some other disturbing findings. Over two thirds of those surveyed received no contributions towards English classes. Approximately 80% of them either had no contract or merely a verbal contract. One third of them had been asked to work while sick. The MRCI concluded that the levels of exploitation were staggering. Similarities could easily be drawn with the exploitation of Irish women who were forced to leave their homeland in past decades. As a proud feminist, I cannot stand over the removal of their rights.

Six months ago the then Fianna Fáil spokesperson on children, Deputy Robert Troy, who spoke earlier in this debate shared the concerns I am outlining when he called for employment law to be extended to au pairs. The proposal before the House to exempt au pairs from employment law runs contrary to the ruling of the Workplace Relations Commission, as other speakers have identified. It also runs contrary to the National Minimum Wage Act 2000 and the rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Union. The Bill seeks to distinguish Ireland as the only country in Europe which does not have a legal definition of "au pair", while ignoring the European Court's definition of "employment". The European Court is clear that "employment" is when "for a certain period of time one person performs services for and under the direction of another person in return for which he receives remuneration". The International Labour Organization, ILO, defines "domestic work" as "work performed in or for a household or households". Surely the work of au pairs is covered by that definition. According to the ILO, such workers must enjoy fair terms of employment. As a Parliament, we must not water down these rights. There is no legal gap for the rights of au pairs.

While the Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation holds the lead responsibility for employment rights, I would like to speak about the issue of affordable and high-quality child care in my capacity as the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. Some Members referred to this issue. For three decades I have campaigned tirelessly for accessible child care. During this time I co-established An Cosán and the Fledglings child care centres which not only serve communities but also provide employment for over 100 people. In the light of this experience, I was very happy to see the vision of child care set out on Fianna Fáil's website. The Deputies opposite and I share many common goals and I look forward to working with them to achieve them. Fianna Fáil's pledge to ensure child care providers are paid a living wage is a worthy one and something we should set out to achieve. However, are au pairs to be excluded from such a laudable goal?

I agree with the Deputies opposite on the need for a second free preschool year and that is now happening. I was delighted to confirm last week that an extra €2.5 billion had been secured to bring the total allocation for capital grants to those providing free preschool hours to €6.5 billion. From September, up to 60,000 children and their families will benefit. On average, children and families will be entitled to an additional 23 free preschool weeks. This will increase the total average entitlement from 38 weeks to 61. This extended provision will reduce parents' child care costs by approximately €1,500, thereby bringing their average saving on child care costs to €4,000.

I think we are united on the need to ensure children with disabilities have access to preschools. Last month I launched the access and inclusion model, known as AIM. As Deputies will be aware, this model provides for services to be made available to children with additional needs without having to go through the process of seeking a diagnosis. The sector has warmly welcomed this initiative which will benefit up to 6,000 children. I hope all Members will help to raise awareness of this important scheme. The first enrolments will start in September.

Overall, we will provide €345 million for child care services this year, an increase of 30% on last year's figure. This is contributing to a public service and a public good. We are establishing quality accessible child care services. However, I do not see a role for this legislation. The issues that arise go beyond employment law. Issues such as the quality of care provided and the well-being of children arise in this context. It is worth noting that if the au pair agency envisaged in the Bill were to be established, it would cost an estimated €500,000 a year. I assure the Deputies opposite that we are on a lot of common ground. Our energies should be put into working together for the benefit of children, families and communities. I fully appreciate that families throughout the country have serious concerns about the high cost of child care.

It is a personal priority for me and my Government colleagues to make child care more affordable. We are moving in that direction while at the same time taking necessary steps to improve the quality of child care, so families can be assured that their children are being cared for and educated to the highest standards.

Data that has been made available to me from the Growing Up in Ireland study, which is sponsored by my Department, show that approximately 1% of families in Ireland rely on au pairs for at least part of their child care. I accept that many treat au pairs as part of the family, as Deputies have mentioned, affording them the dignity and respect they deserve. I also appreciate that many families have already honoured their au pair entitlements as employees and recognise the protection that is afforded to them under both Irish and European law. Nonetheless, abuses are taking place and it is wrong to ignore that. While the Bill seeks to protect au pairs from some abuses, it does nothing to protect their fundamental rights as employees which they already have.

I always appreciate the input of Members and have an open door to their suggestions, ideas and policies, but I ask the Deputy to look again at the Bill and to return to the position outlined last year by Deputy Robert Troy. In a statement on 22 December last, he said that au pairs are currently working in up to 20,000 Irish homes with many being subjected to exploitation and abuses of labour law. He called for au pairs to enjoy the protection of employment law. I share those grave concerns. As I said, this Bill is not consistent with the affordability or the quality child care agenda being pursued by the Government. I note the suggestion by my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Breen, relating to a question to the Low Pay Commission with regard to the rates for board and lodging in terms of examining rates of pay, especially if that is included in the work of a worker. That might provide us with possibilities for a way of moving forward on this.

However, the Bill is not consistent with our movement towards a quality agenda for regulated child care. In light of the considerations I have outlined, the Government is opposing the Bill.

I thank all the Members who contributed to the debate. I will finish with where I started earlier. The Bill was required to bring legal clarity to the situation of the au pair exchanges in Ireland. At present, there is no definition of an au pair under Irish legislation and the absence of such a definition has created a legal lacuna for both host families and au pairs. The Workplace Relations Commission ruling in March 2016 on au pair payments threatens to undermine the tradition of au pair exchanges. This issue affects 20,000 families who use au pairs. In effect, they are criminalised by the ruling. That is where I started and I will finish on that point.

I will respond to some of the comments made in the debate. Obviously, I am quite naive to think that I am elected to be a legislator. I came here to legislate and to work with like-minded people who will wish to legislate with me. That is my motivation and ethos. Let us stop the grandstanding. There are families who depend on the support of au pairs through the cultural and educational exchange. I am not a solicitor or a barrister. I worked with other people to draft the Bill so I will take all of the flaws on board. However, there is no flaw that is not unresolvable. We can work through this with amendments.

One of the first was mentioned by the Minister of State, Deputy Breen. I thank him for raising it and I thank him for sharing his time with us, but I believe there are solutions to all that he said. When I brought this Bill forward I hoped it would be accepted by the Minister, Deputy Zappone, and supported by the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, but it has been the other way around. Fine Gael has addressed the Bill as a working relations matter and I respect that interpretation. However, we have laid out the lodgings as €54. That is probably the crux of the problem. We have undervalued the value of the lodging. The sum of €54 is a huge part in this. Deputy Coppinger is looking at me but €54 for board and lodging for somebody for a week is way below the cost at this time. I did a little research and in Drumcondra it is €180. Perhaps that is something we should examine for the future.

Deputy Sherlock spoke about my modus operandi in introducing the Bill. There was a genuine reason for bringing it forward. It was not agencies or the like, but the families that are affected. I am aware that exploitation is taking place. I watched the "Prime Time" programme and I support the motivation of the Immigrant Council. I acknowledge there was abuse. However, I am speaking for the 20,000 families who buy into what Deputies Bríd Smith, Maureen O'Sullivan and Fiona O'Loughlin have engaged in - cultural and educational exchange. It is where one embraces somebody into one's house, shares one's family with them and with whom one breaks bread at the dining room table. One shares the culture of what is good in Ireland. As Deputy Mattie McGrath said, it is a thousand welcomes. That is what I am talking about. I am not talking about the employer-employee relationship, because that breaks the spirit of what the au pair system is about.

They are doing 30 hours work under the Deputy's Bill.

I can respond to that. I discussed the 30 hours with the Immigrant Council. The approach to this was to bring the Bill to the House, debate it and bring it to Committee Stage so we could bring everybody with us to that Stage, work it through and deliver a result. We could increase the amount for board and lodging, negotiate the amount of hours for work and listen to everybody's viewpoint. That includes the Immigrant Council, the au pair agencies and host families. That will bring everybody with us. Is that not what the new Government and Dáil reform is about, to bring people with us?

I certainly would have been very foolish to have walked out and not to have been true to myself. There are 20,000 families who have listened to us debate this. In essence, everybody, aside from Deputy Mattie McGrath and my party colleagues, is opposed to this Bill. They oppose it on the grounds that it is employment law. If we had the legislation last February before this ever arose, we would not be having this conversation because we would have protected those au pairs. Now, we do not protect them. I want to be accountable to the people. I wish to convey the voices of the 20,000 families. I am talking about youngsters coming from Spain, France and Germany who want to engage with and embrace our culture. They might want to go to Galway International Arts Festival this week or to the races in the following week, and they go to those events in the car with their families. On the other hand they might go to Dublin to meet their friends, go out and experience all that is good about it.

Like the Minister, Deputy Zappone, I am a feminist. I stand up for women and I support the working mother. I support the mother who wishes to move forward and be progressive. That is why we need this support. The Minister has not once heard me mention child care in this regard at all. This is a cultural and educational experience. It is also about the idea of supporting and embracing the family. That is the essence of this Bill. This is what I am paid to do and what I expect myself to do. It is what I expect all of us to do - to embrace the ethos of the Bill and bring it to Committee Stage with an open mind to iron it out, support the families and hear what the Immigrant Council and the au pair agencies have to say about it.

Most importantly, prevent it going to the black market and prevent it driving it underground, because that is what we are going to do. That is what we will deliver and that is what those 20,000 families will be left with, namely, no option. They will see themselves as criminals. However many more cases there are, whether it is 50 or 100, from today forward if the Bill is defeated tomorrow, because I will press it to a vote, we will say to families that they are now employers. Their day of having an au pair will be gone. They will be left with no other option. That is what the option is, but I have brought it to the floor. I have no more to say. I thank Deputies for their time.

Amendment put.

The division will be postponed until the weekly division time tomorrow, Thursday, 14 June 2016, in accordance with Standing Order 70(2).