Fortunately exploitation of au pairs is a rare occurrence. Less than five percent of the queries received by AuPairWorld are complaints, and only a fraction of these are to do with disagreements regarding working hours or tasks.
What is an au pair, in fact? 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 au pair receives pocket money for these services, and as a fully entitled family member is given room and board with the host family as well as the possibility of attending a language 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 permitted activities. Both au pairs and host families must conform with these provisions.
What is working time? What is leisure time? Which 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 specifically discussed and agreed. 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.
If you have the feeling that your host family is not keeping to the agreements that have been made, you should take action:
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.