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Live-in childcare workers win the fight for minimum wage

The government has agreed to remove the legal exemption that excludes ‘family workers’ from minimum wage protections. This is a historic victory for live-in childcare workers who have been organizing throughout the pandemic in order to demand better pay and conditions. 

    • The ‘family worker exemption’ was introduced into National Minimum Wage regulations in 1999. It states that workers do not have to be paid the minimum wage if they live in their employer’s house and are treated as ‘a member of the family’, particularly with regards to the provision of accommodation and food. This exemption was implemented under the guise that young workers were taking part in a ‘cultural exchange.’
    • When the Low Pay Commission investigated the exemption last year, the Nanny Solidarity Network (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 ATLEU
    • The Nanny Solidarity Network 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
    • Member's testimonies revealed that far from a ‘cultural exchange’, the exemption had created an invisible, exploited group of migrant women, unable to report abuse and entirely dependent on their host family
    • Instead of ‘light housework’, workers described long hours, leaving no time for English classes. 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 
  • “In our call before, she told me I’d be ​‘helping out a bit with the kids.’ On the first Monday, I was told to clean all 11 rooms in the house. I used to work around 12 hours per day.”
  • “I remember having to keep snacks like crisps in my room because I didn’t feel welcome to have dinner with the family. I often went to bed quite hungry.”
  • 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 seek 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 Nanny Solidarity Network calls on the government to ensure that this reform benefits all workers by also removing the ‘illegal working offense’ which criminalizes 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".

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