The responses to questions to which the Deputy refers, dating back to May and July 2015, must be read in the wider context in which they were posed. The question to the then Minister for Justice and Equality related to whether host families were at liberty to enter into cultural exchange programmes. Accordingly, the question was responded to in the context of the traditional interpretation and understanding of the au pair arrangement as a private, voluntary, and shared understanding between the parties concerned - i.e. between a private household or sponsor family and a private individual. The basic premise of the question to the then Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation was in relation to persons engaged in employment and potential abuses arising therein. The response to that question makes it clear that the determination of whether there is a contract of employment or not, was not based on the title of “au pair” per se but rather by reference to employment legislation and contract law. It went on to state that the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) would examine any complaint received in the light of the facts of each case.
The meaning of au pairs has evolved over time, particularly following a ruling of the WRC in 2016. Therefore, persons who work as au pairs are entitled to the full protection of employment legislation in an employer-employee relationship and this is governed under the employment permit regulations of my colleague the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation.
The finding of the WRC, as I understand it, is that an individual working as an au pair is deemed to be an employee, with the entitlements that go with that status, including payment of at least the minimum wage. While there has traditionally been a social and cultural dimension to work as an au pair, which presumably can continue into the future, this cannot alter the entitlements of individuals deemed to be employees. This applies irrespective of the immigration arrangements under which they are resident in Ireland.
My remit in this area is limited to the immigration status of non-EEA nationals and in that context, as far as the immigration aspects of this issue are concerned, a non-EEA national would not be granted immigration permission for the primary purpose of being an au pair. Furthermore, I understand that such employment would not be eligible for an employment permit from the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation. Persons on student permission with an Immigration Stamp 2 are, however, entitled to engage in casual work for up to 40 hours per week during the months June to September and for a 4-week period from mid-December to mid-January. Outside that time the limit is 20 hours per week. Working as an "au pair" within those temporal limits is not forbidden but such work is subject to employment law and the various entitlements that employees have, and the responsibilities that an employer has.