Unions to fight for better wages for au pairs

Trade unions want the government to recognise that many au pairs are used as cheap labour

Most au pairs come to Denmark to earn a living rather than to experience a cultural exchange. But rather than being treated as guests who receive a nominal amount of pocket money in exchange for housework, the reality is that many are treated as cheap labour by busy families.

That is why the labour confederation LO, which represents 18 different labour unions, is making a range of proposals on how to make the government change the controversial au pair programme.

READ MORE: Pregnant au pairs kicked out of Denmark

The unions are demanding that au pairs get the same rights as other professionals on the job market, including the right to social security and maternity leave.

"In the trade unions, we are getting impatient to see changes in the au pair programme," LO's deputy chairman, Lizette Risgaard, told Ugebrevet A4. "The modern au pair is not on a cultural exchange trip. They are here to earn a living. There is no reason why the government should hesitate to change the programme and make it more realistic."

Around 4,400 foreigners are currently working as au pairs in Denmark, with nearly 75 percent of those coming from the Philippines. The current minimum wage for au pairs is 3,200 kroner a month for 30 hours of housework a week, but LO wants that amount raised to at least 5,000 kroner.

"Au pairs are exceptionally cheap labour, but the people who use them are often highly paid and should have no problems paying standard wages for the practical work they want to get done in their homes," Risgaard said, referring to the fact that most host families live in the wealthiest part of northern Zealand, also known as the 'Whisky Belt'.

Outdated programme
A law change may be on the way, Ugebrevet A4 claims, but it was unable to get a comment from Employment Minister Mette Frederiksen (S).

READ MORE: Report: Au pairs treated as cheap labour

However, Enhedlisten's Jørgen Arbo-Bæhr said that Frederiksen invited the far-left party to discuss the au pair programme.

"I definitely expect the minister to give the au pairs more rights, so a pregnant au pair girl won't just get deported," Arbo-Bæhr told Ugebrevet A4. "Today it's a very outdated programme and we need to make some significant improvements and give the au pairs a raise."

Blue parties against law change
The opposition parties, on the other hand, have not shown interest in making adjustments to the au pair programme.

"Generally speaking, we are pleased with the programme as it is," Louise Schack Elholm (V), a member of parliament's employment committee, told Ugebrevet A4. "It fits the au pairs and the host families, and we are not at all prepared to change it as LO proposes. There is already a strong set of rules on how much au pairs are allowed to work, so there shouldn't be any problems as long as no one breaks the rules."

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