'Au pairs not experienced or qualified enough to justify the minimum wage'
New laws requiring parents to pay au pairs the minimum wage are putting families under financial strain and are "not a good idea", according to a leading parenting website.
Laura Erskine, spokeswoman for Mummypages.ie, said the legislation, introduced on January 1, means parents are finding it harder to employ the workers.
The new laws mean au pairs can work no more than 30 hours a week and requires they are paid at least €9.15 an hour. Ms Erskine told the Herald she is against the legislation.
"It's not a good idea at all and it puts an awful lot of our mums in a very difficult position," she said.
"The new legislation was introduced simply because a few people exploited the system. There are some that expect au pairs to work 12 hours a day without suitable accommodation or sleeping arrangements. This is definitely exploitation.
"Having said this, an au pair is not a worker in the same way as a maid or a cleaner. They're living with the family and benefiting from learning English. They're also seeing places of cultural interest and getting their bus fare, their room, meals, internet all paid for.
"This is what the original programme was about - they would get all this in exchange for doing a small number of hours to help with the housework and/or the childminding."
The legislation was brought in after several cases of childminders taking families to court for paying far below the minimum wage. Recently, an au pair paid less than €5.65 per hour was awarded more than €2,250 due to the family being found in breach of the Minimum Wage Act, the Organisation of Working Time Act and the Terms of Employment (Information) Act.
Ms Erskine went on to say that many parents won't be able to afford childcare since the minimum wage rule for au pairs came into play.
"Now that you have to pay them a minimum wage for the hours they work, it doesn't actually equate to the amount of money that a family is spending on housing the au pair," she said. "Our mums are struggling, especially those who have to work shifts. Having an au pair that lives with them is really their only option. Many parents are now finding it a lot harder to afford people to look after their children.
"I accept there are some parents who take advantage of au pairs, but I really think they're in the minority. It's now cheaper to avail of childcare places or a professional nanny. These girls who come over to work for us are not qualified in childcare and it's not as if they would have much experience in this area that would justify them being paid minimum wage.
"The legislation has not been thought through at all and the au pairs themselves aren't in favour of it. They don't want to be thought of as a worker coming to Ireland."
Ms Erskine said since the €9.15 legislation was enforced, she now charges her own au pair living expenses.