Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Children and Youth Affairs Anne Rabbitte says legislation put forward by her party will provide greater protection and security to au pairs and their host families.

Deputy Rabbitte made the comments in advance of the Dáil Private Members Business debate on the ‘Au Pair Placement Bill 2016’.

“This legislation is designed to bring much needed legal clarity to the situation governing au pair exchanges in Ireland. Currently there is no definition of an au pair in Irish legislation. This is extremely problematic as it has led to the emergence of a legal vacuum and has created confusion for au pairs and their host families.

“The Workplace Relations Commission made a ruling in March 2016 on au pair payments. The WRC ruled that host-au pair relationship is the same as that of an employer and employee. This undermines the tradition of au pair arrangements in Ireland as it does not take account of the educational or cultural advantages of such exchanges.

“The WRC ruling has created a legal minefield for au pairs and their host families alike. In effect it means that host families must pay au pairs the statutory minimum wage alongside making the corresponding PRSI contributions. The ruling also requires a detailed record of hours worked and duties undertaken to be kept. The ruling does not take into consideration the fact that food and lodgings are supplied in most instances.

“There are around 20,000 families with au pairs in Ireland, most of who come from other EU countries and participate on English language programmes. It’s estimated that au pair placements could fall by as much as 80% if legislation is not brought in to clarify the situation.

“The legislation we have introduced will provide the necessary legal clarity for au pairs and their host families alike. It defines au pair placements in line with its traditional definition as a cultural, learning and educational exchange. It creates a legal definition for au pairs which are standard in other countries right across the EU. It also attempts to crack down on less regulated elements of the au pair sector.

“This Bill will also establish a new mechanism for hearing complaints and resolving disputes between au pairs and host families. Furthermore, a new body will be set up to provide accreditation to au pair agencies and ensure new standards are upheld. The legislation strikes the right balance between protecting au pairs and upholding the traditional cultural aspects of such placements.”