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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Norway scraps au pair program

Labour Minister Marte Mjøs Persen announced Wednesday that the Norwegian government is moving forward with plans to stop issuing temporary residence permits under its so-called “au pair” program. Persen claims the program has become a loophole in the system to import cheap labour.

Labour Minister Marte Mjøs Persen is moving forward with plans to end Norway’s au pair program. PHOTO: Arbeids- og inkluderingsdepartementet/ Simen Gald

The au pair program was meant to be a form of cultural exchange, but it was often exploited by Norwegian families seeking cheap household help. Now the government intends to scrap the ‘au pair’ program that’s brought thousands of mostly young women to Norway over the years.

They came in earlier decades to spend a year or two living with a family, learning the Norwegian language and joining in on cultural activities. In return they’d do some light housekeeping and often look after young children.

Most recently au pairs have been used by embassies and wealthy families who want live-in domestic help. There’s been a rash of lawsuits over abuse of au pairs and even complaints that they’ve been subjected to what the leader of Norway’s largest labour confederation LO  Peggy Hessen Følsvik has called a form of “slavery.” The au pair arriving in Norway over the past two decades have mostly been young women from the Philippines who receive room and board and send the small amount of spending money they receive from host families home to their own poor families.

“We want to have proper working conditions for everyone, also when the work occurs in the home,” Persen said. “Even though many au pair live well with their host families, the program has also become a loophole to get cheap workers. The time when the au pair program was seen as a cultural exchange is over.”

She claimed the Labour-Center government, which has intended to eliminate the au program since it took office in the fall of 2021, is sending its proposal to follow through on that out to hearing. Persen said the government will provide for a “good transition” in winding down the program so that it won’t affect au pair currently in Norway.

Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl insisted that “everyone can express their opinions” about winding down the program and how it should occur during the hearing process, which will end on June 29.

Følsvik, currently involved in wage negotiations with the national employers’ organization NHO, told newspaper VG that she’s glad the government is finally ending the au pair program. She thinks it’s also been a source of “aggravated exploitation” of foreign women in Norway. “I’m relieved that this program will now end,” she said.

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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