Fortunately, exploitation of au pairs is a very rare occurrence. Less than five percent of the queries received by AuPairWorld are complaints, and only a fraction of these have to do with disagreements regarding au pair working hours or tasks.
Au pair means "on an equal footing"
What is an au pair exactly? In French, "au pair" means "on an equal footing", and this is exactly how an au pair stay should be organised. Having an au pair is like having an older daughter or son on a temporary basis who supports the host family with childcare and light housework. The aupair receives pocket money for these services, and as a fully entitled family members is given room and board with the host family as well as the possibility of attending alanguage course. The aim on both sides is cultural exchange - in a protected family environment.
An au pair is not a cleaning lady or a housekeeper and is certainly not to be seen as a cheap source of labour. In the various countries throughout the world, there are specific guidelines and regulations pertaining to working hours, pocket money and appropriate au pair duties. Both au pairs and host families must conforms with these provisions.
Working hours and tasks: Topics with a potential for conflict
What counts as working time ? What counts as free time? What tasks do I have to perform as an au pair? These are all questions that need to be discussed and agreed upon by the au pair and the host family. When clear agreements have not been made or when communication has been insufficient, this can lead to misunderstandings and to conflicts.
Because the au pair is part of the host family, the border between working time and leisure time is often fluid and not so clearly defined. Setting the table, eating dinner together, minding the children while watching television: for some this is part of the shared family life, for others working time. Such matters need to be discussed on an ongoing basis and au pairs and families need to come to clear and mutually acceptable agreements. Au pairing also means being flexible – on both sides. Perhaps as an au pair you work longer on one day, but for that you have another day free. With such arrangements it is important that a balance is maintained, and each side needs to do its part to ensure mutual fairness.
What can you do if you feel exploited as an au pair?
If you have the feeling that your host family is not keeping to the agreements that have been made, you should take action:
- Inform yourself regarding the au pair regulations in your host country and take a look in your contract to see what you have agreed with the host family and what has been put in writing.
- Talk with your host family. We know that it can be hard to take this step, particularly to begin with and in a foreign language. Our tip: Keep a diary for some days about your daily tasks and working times. Then you can use this as a basis for a having a talk with your host family.
- When problems persist or when you have the feeling that you are being exploited, report the family to us. We will take action.
- If it is not possible to come to an agreement, then you may need to take the step of switching to a new host family. If you have questions about this, then contact us.
- If none of this helps, then it is better to end your au pair stay than to continue in a situation in which you are being exploited.
We see it as our responsibility to inform au pairs and host families about their rights and their duties. And to monitor that all the involved parties behave fairly in keeping with our Basic idea of au pairing . This is an essential part of our company philosophy, which we also include as part of our business Terms and Conditions. We are convinced that only on this basis can an exchange between equals take place – which will serve as an enrichment for both sides.