Au Pair in Ireland: Low Wages, Poor Work Conditions and Exploitation Cases

Child playing (chrisps/Flickr)
Child playing (chrisps/Flickr)

Another reality faced by girls who were looking for a cultural exchange. 


Some families think that, if they give board and food for the Au Pair are enough, but we’re not at the time of slavery, slaves who worked for room and board, but we are not slaves.


The word Au pair came from late 19th century, in France. The phrase was originally adjectival, describing an arrangement between two parties paid for by the exchange of mutual services.

In the last 15 years, Au pair’s programs were created in countries such as United States, Germany, the Netherlands, and Canada. Many girls, most of them from Europe and South America, between 18 and 25 years, decided to become an Au pair in order to learn a new language and experience a new culture. Both, families and girls, need to comply and follow certain rules, both receive guidelines for this program work.

Child playing (chrisps/Flickr)
Child playing (Illustration Picture)  (chrisps/Flickr)

Due to the fact that the primary language is English, Ireland is a popular destination for young people seeking to learn a new language. However, even not having an Au Pair program, many families, hire girls to work as an Au Pair in their home. The best way to find a family in Ireland is through specialized sites and groups on Facebook. Sites as  and are very common among girls seeking jobs as an au pair. Families and girls can create profiles there, and get in touch with each other. Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI), estimate more than 10,000 au pairs are placed, in Ireland, per year.

Nothing seemed wrong, until recently, some girls came into contact with the media to report that they were being exploited, and in some cases, working as slaves for some families, or we can call “modern slaves”, considering that they are not arrested in those houses. In study showed by MRCI, 36% Au Pairs reported an exploitation.

A spectrum of exploitation experienced by Au Pairs, including low wages, long working hours and poor treatment.

According to MRCI, Even though the term “Au Pair” is not mentioned in the legislation, women working as Au Pair, are covered by legislation of domestic works, and should receive at least, the minimum wage €9,15 per hour, and also have good working conditions.

In an interview with Sara Abbrescia, she told about her experience in Ireland. She is Italian, and she is an Au Pair for 3 years. When I asked her about the experience she said, “ I found my first family in an website, I didn’t speak English very well, so I couldn’t understand the family. I went to live in the countryside with the family, I worked Monday to Saturday, full time, and also I had to do babysitting on Saturday night, and they paid me 100 euros per week. I didn’t know my rights, so I accepted this situation”.

Sara said that her first intention was learn English, but she only studied English on Sundays, because during the week, she had to work for the family.

Sara also said that she felt very lonely, because she did not know anyone, she just known the Irish family, however, she said that the relationship with the family was not easy, “ They were very nervous all the time, something happened and they shouted on me, and also they asked me to work more and more and sometimes they forgot to pay me, so I had to asked them. So, I left the family because I realized that this was not right”.

Sara found a way to solve her situation, “After some months in this situation, I decided looking for my rights, I found the group called Au pair Rights on Facebook, they helped me, and now I found another family. I didn’t know my rights before, but now I know, and now I want a minimum wage, I want my holidays paid and also, I want more respect from the families. ”.

Many girls as Sara accept situations like this, for lack of information, lack of knowledge of the laws, and sometimes by fear and necessity, because even receiving less than the minimum wage, they need this money to stay in the country.

Adriana Santos also went through difficult situations as Au Pair. She said in an interview that became Au Pair by accident, she was studying in Dublin and travelled during the Christmas and New Years Week. During her trip, she received an email from her landlady saying that the house had being sold, and she would have to leave the house with urgency. As Adriana was traveling, the landlady said would keep all her belongings, and when she returned Adriana could work as an Au Pair for her, and so live in the house of the landlady.

Adriana had no choice, because she was traveling and could not find a house so fast, so she accepted the proposal. “ I didn’t know anything about Au Pair, I didn’t have any experience with kids, but I didn’t have option, I didn’t have house, and she took all my belongings”.

After she arrived in Dublin, she went to the landlady’s house, to understand what was the job, and what she had to do. “ As soon as I arrived in Dublin, I went to her house, and then she told me, that I had to look after her 3 children, normally during the day, however, the next day she and her husband were going to travel, and for a week I would have to take care of all the children alone. She gave me all the activities; also she said that everyday I should go out to a park with the youngest child. Also, I had to prepare all meals, and even arrange the house. She told me that the house had cameras and everything would be monitored by them. During this week, I woke up at 5am to prepared everything, and slept at 00:00am because the youngest child, was afraid to sleep alone, so every night I had to sleep with him. I worked more than 10 hours a day for 7 days, and I received 80 euros per week. After the parents returned, nothing has changed, I continued working longer hours, much more than agree, and always getting only 80 euros per week. I did not have Internet access, there was no television in my room and my bed was a mattress on the floor. After a month in these conditions, I decided to leave the family and seek other work. I don’t want to be an Au Pair anymore, some families think that, if they give board and food for the Au Pair are enough, but we’re not at the time of slavery, slaves who worked for room and board, but we are not slaves”.

As Jane Xavier, spokesman for the Au Pair rights in Ireland said in an interview ” Au Pairs are protected by domestic workers’ legislation, however most of girls does not know it, some families don’t know either, but others, they do know, but pretend not to know, considering that is fine for the Au Pair receive less than the minimum salary given that they have board and food”.

Considering all the facts, are clear that Au Pair, even if the term is no mentioned in the legislation, are protected by law as domestic workers, however, as Jane Xavier said “While the government doesn’t enforce that Au Pair are covered by the legislation for domestic workers’, nothing is going to change, and people will still think, ‘is ok, because its an au pair position’. The law exists, but it needs to be strengthened”.

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