Are au pairs being ripped off more than other Australia workers? Probably, but not by much – and sometimes they come out ahead.
Indeed, to these young women who visit from overseas and babysit children in exchange for bed and board and “pocket money” of $7 to $8 an hour, my message would be: Welcome to Australia.
More regulation, please
A new and somewhat anticipated report from UTS and Macquarie University researchers surveyed 1500 au pairs about their living and working conditions in Australia for their report Cultural Exchange or Cheap Housekeeper?
Rather than a shocking litany of exploitation, the report’s main take-aways were that 84 per cent said the experience met or exceeded expectations – and that the au pair sector could do with more regulation, for the sake of clarity more than a safeguard against abuse.
On the downside, yes, there were instances of people being made to do more work than they anticipated – up to 45 hours a week – and to being let go without notice when things didn’t work out.
But given the au pair trade is a seller’s market – read cheap, unqualified, live-in childcare – demand exceeds supply, and local placement agencies are forever looking for new recruits. And one has to remember these women are on holiday, engaged in a cultural exchange they can boast about on Facebook.
How you compare with the au pair
Still, the idea persists that au pairs are in a particularly vulnerable position and hard done by. But let’s look at the total cost of their package, to use hiring lingo.
Firstly, the dollars, meant to be taxed but probably more often cash in hand: 45 hours at $8 an hour comes to $360.
If an au pair were to pay for accommodation at a hostel, according to a government guide to living costs at studyinaustralia.gov.au, they’d be up for $90 to $150 a week, plus $80 to $280 for groceries, $20 to $55 for phone and internet, and $15 to $55 for public transport.
There is also $80 to $150 a week for entertainment to factor in, but even then, being an unofficial member of the family, an au pair gets to mooch along on outings. In effect, their total earn in cash and kind can range from $645 to $1050 – the latter figure boosted by eating a lot while entertaining the rug-rats.
Worse off on an award
Let’s compare this to the real world. Under the Pastoral Award 2010, a farm and livestock hand level 1 “with keep” earns $591.69 a week, or $15.57 an hour.
“Keep” means the worker is provided “good and sufficient living accommodation and good and sufficient rations of sufficient quantity; sound, well cooked and properly served by the cook or the cook’s offsider”.
Read: A bunkhouse and many dubious plates of stew.
For entertainment: Being in the country, you make your own fun or hope that someone might give you a lift into the nearest town. Maybe you want to join the circus, see the country.
Under the Travelling Shows Award 2010, a grade 1 circus worker makes $719.20 a week or $18.93 an hour. There is $7.20-a-week laundry allowance and your accommodation costs are reimbursed. Which means if you don’t have your own caravan, you have to rent one on the edge of town and luxuriate under the shower in the ablutions block. No meals provided.
Want to put down roots, but have few skills? Under the Poultry Processing Award 2010 a level one employee earns $743.30 a week or $19.56 an hour, before tax.
If we go back to studyinaustralia.gov.au for a guide to living costs, factoring in rental accommodation and running a car, your cost of living ranges from $450 to $1540, the latter being twice as much you earn.
So maybe no car, entertainment, quality produce or living alone and you’ll get by. This is where the story starts for Australian workers at the bottom of the ladder.
If you want to get real, an uncounted number aren’t getting that award rate or anywhere close to it.
And for people who want a live-in maid with all the toilet cleaning, window washing and little bottom wiping that money can buy?
According to mrmeticulous.com.au, you should be paying $27 an hour. So yeah, au pairs are getting ripped off.