Au pairs and nannies are celebrating a “historic victory” after the Government announced that the legal loophole that exempted live-in workers from minimum wage laws will be closed.
The Government has agreed to repeal the legal provision that exempts “family workers” from minimum wage protections. This is a historic victory for live-in childcare workers, who have been organising to demand better pay and working conditions since the beginning of the pandemic.
Rules implemented in 1999 outlined a “family worker exemption,” which stated that employees did not need to be paid minimum wage if they lived in their employer’s home and were treated as if they were part of the family.
The Nanny Solidarity Network (NSN) has spearheaded the campaign. The NSN is a grassroots group for mutual aid and collective action. Workers established the network to run a solidarity fund during the first lockdown when many nannies and au pairs lost their income and accommodation and had no access to state support.
When the Low Pay Commission investigated the exemption last year, the NSN provided a platform for nannies and au pairs to directly submit testimonies to the Commission, alongside evidence from Kalayaan, the Voice of Domestic Workers and the Anti Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit (ATLEU).
Many weren’t able to share meals with their host family and were given a mattress to sleep on or expected to share a room with the kids. Workers were paid as little as £1/hour.
The Low Pay Commission concluded that the exemption provided a loophole for employers to exploit live-in workers and acted as a barrier for these workers when they sought to protect their rights. They recommended that the exemption is not fit for purpose and should be banned.
This week, the Government publicly accepted the Low Pay Commission’s recommendations in full and has agreed to scrap the exemption.
The Network called on the Government to ensure that this reform benefits all workers by removing the ‘illegal working offence’ that criminalises employment for many migrants in the UK, excluding them from protections such as the minimum wage.
Leticia Dias, Nanny and Member solidarity Coordinator at the Nanny Solidarity Network, says:
“They think that because we are migrants we don’t deserve the same basic protections as other workers. They think that because women have always done childcare and cooking and cleaning for free that this is not ‘real work.’ But this decision by the government to listen to our stories and remove the exemption shows that when we come together, we are powerful. We will continue to fight for the protections we deserve.”
Dr. Kate Hardy, Professor in Work and Employment Relations at the University of Leeds and author of Childcare During Covid, says:
“Nannies enable thousands of parents to attend work each day and have seen their work intensify throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, during which many of them were locked down 24 hours a day with their employers. Despite the essential nature of this work, they have been historically ignored and excluded from government regulation. This ruling rightly brings nannies’ employment into public view and finally affords them the protections and basic conditions given to other workers”.