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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Labour joins calls for ‘au pair’ reform

Several of Norway’s political parties are keen to scrap or dramatically alter the country’s current au pair system, following its repeated abuse. Now the deputy leader of Norway’s largest party, Labour, describes how it’s geared to go along with their calls, and that may create a majority in Parliament.

Hadia Tajik, deputy leader of the Labour Party, is now geared to scrap Norway’s current au pair system and replace it with a cultural exchange program that can be better enforced. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

Hadia Tajik, who once served as a minister of culture for Labour, now agrees that the au pair system has failed as the cultural exchange program it was supposed to be. Instead, it’s often been used by wealthy families as a means of obtaining cheap household help.

A recent case involving abuse of the au pair system resulted in prison terms for a wealthy couple in Norway who illegally had two au pairs working in their home at the same time. The case also highlighted alleged exploitation of the two young women from the Philippines, who testified that they worked long hours in the home and were never given the opportunity to take Norwegian classes, also a requirement in the au pair system.

“We have recognized that today’s au pair system must be scrapped,” Tajik confirmed to newspaper VG earlier this week, before the plans were revealed in Labour’s new party program. The Labour Party, which also is altering its position on EU membership and has announced it will raise taxes if it wins government power this fall, now wants to create a new au pair system that presumably could be better enforced.

“Labour has tried to hinder misuse of au pairs for many years,” Tajik told VG. Labour’s new proposed party program wants to replace the current au pair system with a new one that would require host families to legally commit themselves to providing a cultural program for au pair living in their homes. That would include demands for Norwegian language training that have not been enforced in the current program.

Building a majority in Parliament
Tajik’s comments were well-received by the Christian Democrats and Liberal parties. “I’m not positive towards the current system, so am more than willing to make changes,” Sveinung Rotevatn, labour policy spokesman for the Liberals told VG.

“I totally agree with what Labour is proposing,” Geir Bekkevold of the Christian Democrats told VG. “I have watched with growing unease all these cases in which au pair have been misused.”

Newspaper Aftenposten, which also editorialized on Wednesday in favour of phasing out the au pair program, has reported that the Center Party and the Socialist Left party (SV) have signalled desired changes as well. While VG reports the Progress Party hasn’t made any conclusions yet, its government partner, the Conservatives want to retain the current system but is open to discussing improvements. That may be forced upon the two government parties if all the other parties in Parliament come together, follow up on their rhetoric and form a majority.

Aftenposten, meanwhile, argued how the existing program has simply outlived its time since it was created in 1969. At that time, and until oil made Norway an affluent nation, many young Norwegians also traveled to other countries as au pair when they didn’t have many opportunities for travel, cultural exchange or foreign language training otherwise.

In 2014, Aftenposten noted, only 13 Norwegians were registered as au pair abroad, compared to around 3,000 in Norway at present. Fully 88 percent of them are young women from the Philippines, which Aftenposten editorialized as illustrating how the au pair program has become “professional” because Filipinas are viewed as “especially skilled at housework.” There are cases of current host families who stress genuine cultural exchange, “but it mainly has become a program for cheap servants.”

Trade union confederation LO, which is a major backer of the Labour Party, has long agreed. It has earlier complained about the au pair program and  called for its removal. LO leader Gerd Kristiansen has claimed that host families exploit their au pairs and engage in the equivalent of social dumping. They receive residence permission for up to two years and around NOK 5,000 a month plus room and board in return for what’s supposed to be light housekeeping and some child minding. Many au pair, who also have been used by diplomat families and even some business owners, have ended up as full-time maids, cooks and baby-sitters.

“That’s unacceptable,” Kristiansen has said, adding that she has always found the practice “illegal” as well. The Labour Party, now posed to respond to LO’s complaints and cooperate with other parties, will be expected to roll out its proposals soon, possibly this spring. Berglund



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