50 shades of migrant worker exploitation

As we read in vocabulary „An au pair (plural: au pairs) is a domestic assistant from a foreign country working for, and living as part of, a host family. Typically, au pairs take on a share of the family’s responsibility for childcare as well as some housework, and receive a monetary allowance for personal use”.

What the definition doesn’t say is that being an au pair carries a high risk of being exploited.

Imagine a girl who has never been to England before. She gets an au pair job through an agency based in Bulgaria/Romania/Poland/Lithuania/etc. She is sent to remote part of the UK. She has no friends nor any other support network and her English is poor. She was promised to be treated as „a part of the family”. However, she finds herself working very long hours looking after children and pets, cleaning, cooking, doing laundry, ironing… And on top of it a hosting family pays her less then she was promised. Or maybe her wages are being delayed from week to next week and she never gets any money. She gets frustrated, depressed and would like to leave but she has no money to buy a ticket so she stays hoping that maybe next week things will look differently. Week after week, month after month.

Technically, it’s not trafficking for forced labour but ‘simple exploitation’ as nobody holds her documents and potentially she can pack her stuff and leave any time she wants. So there is no sign of any form of coercion. However, there is a very thin line here as without any money in reality she is forced to stay and carry on…

This is a real – life story. We haven’t made it up. It breaks our heart. Women in semi-slavery au-pair circumstances find their way to us and ask for advice. It’s not easy because so many of them are placed in remote villages, far away from transport links or other amenities.

If you live in England in a situation that is similar, make you uncomfortable, you’re not being paid or have no freedom of movement – don’t hesitate and phone us: 020 8741 1288 or 0800 121 4226 (free helpline)

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