Au pair exploitation goes on trial

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Two trials currently underway in  Oslo point up the serious exploitation faced by many au pairs and other labour migrants who travel to Norway, many of them from the Philippines. Officials at the Au Pair Center, a support organization in Oslo, hope some tough convictions will get other host families to treat their au pairs and imported workers with more respect.

One trial that started in the Oslo city court (Oslo tingrett) on Monday involves a married couple in suburban Bærum charged with forcing their two au pairs from the Philippines to not only work in their home from early in the morning until late at night but also in the Rimi-grocery story they ran on a franchise basis in Nadderud. The young women said they often had to work up to 96 hours a week.

Related hospital case
In another case, Oslo University Hospital is charged as an accomplice to charges against a couple who recruited nurses from the Philippines to work at the hospital and at other health care institutions. They’ve been charged with human trafficking, after they took most of the nurses’ earnings in return for providing them with basic accommodation in their home. They were also supposed to pay for their travel, food and Norwegian classes.

Instead, prosecutors claim they exploited the young women and secured around NOK 1.3 million for themselves, while the nurses only got “pocket money.” The hospital is charged for not monitoring the situation with the nurses and allowing them to be exploited by the couple.

Vulnerable
All the defendants in the two cases deny any wrongdoing. In the au pair case, which bears similarities to the nurses’ alleged exploitation, the charges illustrate how vulnerable people can be who come to Norway (or other countries) on what was meant as a cultural exchange program or with promises of work. Instead, the au pair program has in many cases become a means for affluent Norwegians to obtain inexpensive household help and child care. In the hospital case, social dumping is alleged.

“Since we started up in December, we’ve helped nearly 120 au pairs,” Magnhild Otnes, manager of the Au Pair Center, told newspaper Dagsavisen. “Around 10 percent of the cases are extreme. We have examples of au pairs who had to work 10 to 11 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Trials ‘very important’
Otnes stressed that the trials now going on “are very important. We hope that a conviction can contribute towards placing more responsibility on all families who have au pairs.”

She’s also involved in a conference to be held this Friday at the Literature House in Oslo, which will highlight the dilemmas faced by au pairs in Norway, many of whom are from poor families who need the cash the young women can send home. Otnes urges changes in current regulations, to make the au pair’s temporary residence permission independent of the host family, so the au pair isn’t so beholden to them. Some families use it as threat to the au pairs, saying that if they don’t work as told, they’ll see to it that their residence permission is revoked.

The couple in Bærum risks up to five years in prison if found guilty of forced labour. Newspaper Dagbladet reported it’s the first time that charges of forced labour are being used in a trial regarding the situation for au pairs in Norway.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund