The proposed legislation would guarantee New York’s 200,000 domestic workers sick days, overtime, a day of rest, protection under discrimination laws, and notice before termination.
I think that a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights is a great idea. There are too many stories of caregivers (mostly women) being taken advantage of. When we think about the power differential between employing families and caregivers themselves, you can appreciate how hard it might be for an individual caregiver to assert her or his rights without a framework that legitimates these rights and also provides for punishment when employers violate these rights.
And, I’m glad that au pairs don’t need a bill of rights. Their rights are already protected (in as much as laws or codes can prevent behavior) by the program regulations.
All of us host parents have heard stories of au pairs who’ve been taken advantage of, and nannies and other caregivers who have been taken advantage of, by selfish or otherwise abusive host parents & employers. Although we hear these stories, we know that abuses are limited becuase au pairs are regulated by the State Department and supervised by au pair agencies. Thus, au pairs theoretically have the sick leave, sick pay, and termination notice that a bill of rights would otherwise guarantee them.
Notably, au pairs do not have mandated overtime pay, because overtime is against the regulations.
These protections for au pairs themselves are a big reason why I appreciate the Au Pair Program. I also appreciate my local counsel’s diligence in contacting me and my au pairs regularly, and especially for meeting with me and our incoming au pair to go over the rules and the contract. I also appreciate the agency managing immigration, insurance, travel, training, and socialization.
This is not to say that local counselors are always diligent in making sure that rules are followed, or that agencies always earn their fees by executing their part of the program well. But, in general, these protections make me feel more comfortable about having au pair caregivers.
Laws and program regulations give us a helpful structure by distinguishing between what’s wrong and what’s expected, and by giving everyone the same understanding of basic expectations.
There is a lot of variation within these regulations, though, and that’s one of the reasons our conversations here are so important. Yes, sometimes we talk about breaking the rules, but always with the intent of guiding other host partners to do this in a just way, with explicit agreement and sensitivity to downsides.
And more often, we talk about how to do the au pair relationship thing well, so that it works for all parties. Somehow, the regulatory framework takes care of the basics, so that we are free to talk with more energy not about being legal, but about being fair, and not about what rules should be, but about what principles should guide us.
When someone else takes care of base pay, insurance, and visas, we are free to take care of cultural exchanging, welcoming someone into our families, and supporting them during this part of their life adventure.
(I guess you might call this my AuPairAgency Appreciation post. ;-) )
Thanks for the tip, A. P.!
Image: Acme theatrical agency from Dystopos