There have been calls to formalise the so-called “backpacker au pair” role and create a specific visa to ensure safeguards are in place for workers and families. There is a rising demand for foreign live-in carers, but the industry remains unregulated and open to exploitation.
It comes as childcare reforms hit the headlines again and more families look for affordable and flexible alternatives for their children. Peter Shoobert, a single parent of two young children, has had eight foreign au pairs over the years to help care for his son and daughter and their home.
“They actually become part of the family — they have breakfast with us, they have lunch, dinner, all the rest of it,” he said. “If there’s a night out or friends get together with a dinner, they come with us, so yes, they’re always with us.”
The family lives an hour south of Sydney in the Royal National Park and the au pair takes the children to school 50 kilometres away and looks after them when Mr Shoobert is at work.
“I offer them accommodation, all their food is paid for, I have a spare car which they have the use of, and I help them get work locally because I only have the children 40 per cent of the time,” he said. He also pays them $100 for each day they care for the children.
“Demand for au pairs growing.”
Mr Shoobert said there were double standards, depending on the au pair’s country of origin. “The Filipino girl which I tried to help come here, they apply for the visa, have an interview, then 30 days later they get a rejection, which is just outrageous, but that’s how the Australian Government treats them,” Mr Shoobert said. He would like to see a fairer system, open to more countries, that benefits both families and workers.
Ross Taylor, president of the Indonesia Institute, said it was a good solution for the many families struggling to afford child care or find a placement. “We should allow for foreign au pair workers, not only to come and work on a live-in basis with families, but to form a structure whereby it’s actually at a rate that’s affordable for these families,” he said. “That’s the significant thing.”
The institute previously proposed au pairs from Asia be allowed to work in Australia and paid $250 a week plus board, insurance and a return airfare home each year. Mr Taylor said it was already happening with travellers from eligible countries on working holiday visas.
“What we have is a de facto au pair arrangement in place that’s endorsed by the Government, and that’s happening as a result of the 417 visa,” he said. “So what we’ve seen is a move by very desperate families to access foreign backpacker workers and the foreign backpacker operates as an au pair.” Mr Taylor has called on the Federal Government to create a specialised visa to formalise the arrangement, ensure safeguards are in place and protect against exploitation.
Wendi Aylward, President of the Cultural Au Pair Association of Australia, (and BYTAP member) has supported the call because there is no regulatory framework in place for au pairs in Australia. “There really is a need for clear guidelines for families, au-pairs, agencies to ensure for everyone it’s a safe, rewarding experience and it’s transparent,” Ms Aylward said.
She said the backpacker visa was not an ideal default, particularly as demand for au pairs continues to grow. “Au pairs are looking after children and there needs to be guidelines in place for how they’re recruited, screened, supported, and how families are supported when they choose to do a program such as this,” Ms Aylward said.
In a statement, the Immigration Department said there was currently no intention to create a specific visa for au pairs as it would be inconsistent with the focus of Australia’s temporary migration programs on skilled occupations and the simplification of the visa framework.
The Byte asked a ‘real backpacker au pair’ what she thought of the current arrangements and from her point of view was a new visa required or even a good idea. Sally (not her real name) said “many backpackers come here not knowing that they might become au pairs, it just comes up after they arrive. What if someone only has that visa but doesn’t like the work and wants to change occupations, do they have to change visa as well?” Good point Sally. She added “given the visa restrictions is would seem to open the Aupairs up to exploitation, not reduce it”.
So on the face of it the 417 visa (as the default) isn’t the right visa, it seems as it also restricts the countries that Australia can receive aupairs from. But the prospect of a new visa does appear to throw up some curly questions, according to Sally. What do you think?
Is the 417 or 462 structure good enough for Aupairs? Do we really need another visa? But some countries are missing the aupair boat and there is a shortage of Aupairs? Have your say.
Sourced, interviewed and written by Chris Harrison