It is important to note that there is no legal definition of an “au pair”. Rather, Ireland's body of employment rights legislation protects all employees legally employed on an employer-employee basis in Ireland, regardless of what title is given to them. Therefore, once it is clear that a person is working under a contract of employment, on a full-time or part-time basis, that person has the same protection under employment law as other employees. For example; the National Minimum Wage Act, 2000 requires any persons under a contract of employment to be paid the statutory National Minimum Wage. For the purposes of this Act, this means a contract of service or apprenticeship, or any other contract whereby an individual agrees with another person to do or perform personally any work or service for that person.
There is a general understanding that an au pair is a student or young adult who travels to a foreign country to live with a family, learn the local language and culture and undertakes limited childcare and light household duties. They normally receive a small sum of money from the host family. Non-EU nationals wishing to take up a role as an au pair in Ireland require a visa from the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS), which comes within the remit of the Department of Justice and Equality, while the Department of Children and Youth Affairs has general responsibility for childcare matters. My Department has no oversight role vis-à-vis au pairs, except where there are concerns over whether or not an employment relationship might exist.
Where the National Employment Rights Authority (NERA), which comes within the remit of my Department, receives a complaint involving somebody described as an au pair, NERA will investigate with a view to establishing the person's statutory entitlements under employment law (including whether the term “au pair” is being used to avoid statutory obligations). NERA has encountered individuals, described by their employers as au pairs, who have been found to be domestic employees.
I have no plans to make changes to the existing body of employment rights legislation in this context and the question as to whether a person is an employee or not is determined by NERA within the provisions of existing employment legislation and established contract law.
Where a person has concerns that employees may be exploited or are receiving less than their statutory entitlement, the matter can be reported to the NERA for investigation. Cases for redress on matters relating to employment rights legislation can be made on the workplace relations complaint form available from NERA or online at www.workplacerelations.ie. NERA has a dedicated information service, Workplace Relations Customer Service, which provides information on all aspects of employment rights. This service operates from 9.30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and can be contacted on Lo-Call 1890 808090. Workplace Relations Customer Service also provides extensive information on its website www.workplacerelations.ie.