Study to expose implications of unregulated Australian au pair industry
Current and former au pairs in Australia are being asked to detail their experiences for a pioneering national study on the sector.
Led by Dr Laurie Berg from the University of Technology Sydney Faculty of Law, the study is the first of its kind to extensively examine the living and working conditions of au pairs in Australia.
Although up to 10,000 people work as au pairs in Australia in any given year, Dr Berg says there is a significant lack of data about their experiences – hours of work, duties and rates of pay.
“We know very little about au pairs in Australia. We have no idea what benefits they get out of their au pair experience or what problems they encounter. This survey will provide a strong evidence basis for regulatory reforms in the area,” she said.
At present, Australia has one of the least regulated au pair sectors in the world. This is despite official endorsement by the Productivity Commission, which in 2014 recommended au pairing as an “alternative, affordable and flexible source of commercial childcare”.
“There is no official definition of au pairs, no regulation of au pairing, and no legal rules or even guidelines. Not surprisingly, the living and working conditions of au pairs [in Australia] appear to be highly variable,” Dr Berg said. “One au pair interviewed in a pilot study earned nothing at all for 40 hours work each week.”
According to Berg, the lack of regulation and ambiguities surrounding the legal definition of au pairing leaves au pairs – often young foreign backpackers –particularly vulnerable.
“We clearly need regulation that better safeguards the interests of both au pairs and families. Currently, au pairs have very little recourse if seriously injured in the host family’s home or refused promised payments by families. Equally, if an au pair leaves without notice, a family can be left in the lurch without adequate childcare.”
She said the results of the study would not only be of interest to “policy makers, cultural exchange agencies, thousands of young travellers and Australian families”, but would be instrumental in recommending a “best practice model to address gaps in protection for au pairs”.
Story by: Tess Gibney
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