There is no separate legal definition of the term “au pair” in Irish legislation, and individuals described as “au pairs”, “nannies” or “child-minders” are not exempted or treated as separate categories of workers under Irish employment law. Ireland’s body of employment rights legislation protects all employees who are legally employed on an employer-employee basis, regardless of what title is given to them. Therefore, once it is clear that a person is working under a contract of employment (written or verbal), on a full-time or part-time basis, that person has the same protection under employment law as other employees, including entitlement to the national minimum wage. The National Minimum Wage Act 2000 defines a contract of employment as 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.
All employers, including those in private homes, carry the same obligations in relation to compliance with employment law.
Under the National Minimum Wage Act 2000, certain reckonable components may be taken into account in determining an employee’s average hourly rate. In this context, if an employer provides an employee with full board and lodgings, or lodgings only or full board only, a fixed monetary allowance can be included as reckonable pay (this amount is prescribed by Statutory Instrument).
In 2017 the Low Pay Commission published a report on the allowances provided for board and lodgings under the National Minimum Wage Act. The Commission drew a number of conclusions from its examination of the history, background and operation of the board and lodgings offset, and from the submissions and oral evidence presented to it by workers, employers and WRC enforcement officers.
The Commission’s findings included that
- the allowances do not reflect market value and it was not intended that they would do so;
- the allowances are intended as a form of protection for minimum wage workers against exploitation, and as recognition to employers that there is a cost to the provision of board and lodgings to employees.
The report (available in full at www.lowpaycommission.ie/Publications) also noted that the allowances are not in widespread use and the number of people affected by the allowances is relatively small.
While the Low Pay Commission did not recommend an immediate or specific change in the allowances, it did recommend the retention of the allowances, and that “in future the rate may be reviewed annually in conjunction with the review of the National Minimum Wage”. The recommendations of the Commission were considered and accepted by Government. The changes recommended by the Low Pay Commission were brought into force by an Order signed by me on 11 October 2017 (and the changes came into effect from 1 January 2018). I also provided for an increase in the allowances of 3.2%, an increase that was in line with the increase in the national minimum wage which also came into effect on 1 January.
The rates currently provided (under S.I. No. 440 of 2017 (National Minimum Wage Order 2017)) are:
(i) for board only, €0.85 per hour worked
(ii) for lodgings only, €22.56 per week, or €3.24 per day.
These rates do not only relate to Au Pairs but to any employee engaged on a contract of employment as defined in the National Minimum Wage Act. I currently have no plans to legislate to define a specific category of worker to which these rates apply.