Au pair work in the Netherlands? Proceed with caution!
Every year, many foreigners find work as au pairs in the Netherlands, however, Dutch au pair agencies have been scrutinised due to reports of exploitation.
Every year, thousands of young Asian women find work as au pairs in the Netherlands. Dutch agencies make enormous profits recruiting and supplying them to families, and the market has doubled in just 10 years.
‘Live-in household and childcare help for just EUR 340 a month plus room and board': it's music to the ears of working Dutch parents with children.
However, many au pairs find themselves in unfavourable working conditions that would likely be considered against Dutch laws for working au pairs, and Dutch au pair agencies are being scrutinised due to reports of exploitation.
Cleaning instructions for au pairs
An au pair takes care of the children, performs light cleaning duties, learns the Dutch language and about Dutch culture. The job description appealed to Catleya, a 23-year-old Philippine woman. An au pair agency arranged for her to start working for a family in Amsterdam.
On her first night in the Netherlands, she could hardly sleep because she was so excited. The following day, she was given a list of cleaning instructions. On the second day, more tasks were added to her list, including cleaning the windows. This didn't fall under the ‘light household cleaning' clause in her contract but she was too scared to say anything.
"My host father was a perfectionist when it came to cleaning. If I did one tiny little thing wrong, he'd tell me over and over again. I thought to myself, have I exchanged my life in the Philippines for this? I hadn't expected to be treated like a menial by the family. I slowly learned to accept the fact that if there was something dirty in the house, I was responsible for it."
Au pair salary rights
A week after she arrived, her host family had given her a cleaning roster: on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, she had to dust and vacuum the entire house. On Tuesdays, she had to clean the kitchen from top to bottom and on Thursdays, she did the bathrooms and toilets. She made breakfast for the family every morning and cooked a hot meal every evening. And in between all that, she took care of two children.
Catleya's story is far from unique according to Diane Oosterbeek, who runs Bayanihan, an organisation for Philippine women working in the Netherlands. Every week, the organisation gets complaints from au pairs who have to work far too hard.
"On paper, they're au pairs, but in fact, they're cleaners. They work long hours and don't get any days off. They're being used as cheap labour and they therefore have the right to a salary."
Oosterbeek has taken four host families to court to force them to pay their Philippine au pairs a salary. In all four cases, the judge ruled in favour of the au pairs.
About 1,600 au pairs from outside the European Union work in the Netherlands. One-third of them come from the Philippines. Filipinas are popular because they speak good English, and have a reputation for being careful and obedient.
Abuses can be reported to the Immigration and Naturalisation Department (IND) but hardly anybody does this because the IND can rescind residence permits. Catleya did complain to her au pair agency but nothing was done about the situation.
Her agency, Smiling Faces, says it regrets that some au pairs are not satisfied with the service provided. The agency has undertaken to e-mail all former au pairs to find out whether others have had bad experiences.
Cherry, a 21-year-old Chinese au pair, says she had no problems with her host family but that agencies shouldn't just be interested in making money.
"They should talk to the host family about what it's like to have an au pair. They shouldn't just say that they'll provide an au pair who'll do lots of work and take the money for that."
The Dutch government is monitoring seven of the 20 au pair agencies with which it works because of suspicions about abuses, including exploitation. One of the agencies has already been dropped. The IND says it will in future do its best to work only with au pair agencies which have been checked. It also plans to stop people from making contact with au pairs directly via the internet as they can do at the moment.
The names of the au pairs featured in this article have been changed to protect their identity.
Radio Netherlands / Expatica
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