Filipino Au Pairs Go for ‘Black Work’ in Denmark

Au pairs in Denmark are entitled to a “monthly allowance” of 2,500 kroners, or about P20,000, with free board and lodging. They are expected to perform daily chores for three to five hours a day, six days per week or a maximum of 30 hours a week. The Danish government does not consider the daily chores of an au pair as work; hence, they get an allowance instead of a salary and are issued residence permit instead of a work permit.
To augment their “monthly allowance” many au pairs are willing to work extra hours and get paid under the table. A Filipina, who was interviewed by a local newspaper, said she could earn as much as 15,000 kroners a month by cleaning houses in the Copenhagen area as she could easily charge 100 kroners per hour of work.This kind of illegal work is what the Danish government calls as “sort arbjede” or “black work” which means un-taxable income for the state. Denmark, which exacts as high as 63-percent tax on income, frowns on “sort arbejde” and those found guilty of this offense risk deportation, ban from reentering Denmark for a set period of time, as well as payment of fine and imprisonment.
Host families of au pairs found guilty of illegal work can also risk fine or imprisonment and can be given a penalty period from two to 10 years, during which they cannot hire au pairs.

Deviation from original purpose
A Danish union called Fag og Arbejde (FOA) has recently done a study on au pairs focusing on Filipino nationals where it noted that the au pair program is now being used by Danish families to hire cheap labor which is a deviation from the original purpose of the au pair program— to broaden cultural exchanges between the guest au pairs and the host country.
“It does not surprise me that there are many au pairs who are working illegally in Denmark,” Jacob Bang, general secretary of the FOA said.
“It has been an open secret for a long time that the au pair system is being misused. What I don’t understand is why politicians are not doing anything to address the problem,” he said in a press statement.
The FOA suggested that what the Danish government should do is revise its rules on au pairs and recognize them as legitimate foreign workers entitled to workers’ rights.
“If it is really important for us to have foreigners doing our household chores, then it is time for us to recognize the au pairs as foreign workers instead of just cultural guests, so they can get access to workers’ rights such as fixed income instead of allowance, vacation, and so on,” the FOA leader added.
One political group, the Socialist People’s Party, however suggested that increasing the monthly allowance for au pairs from 2,500 to 4,000 kroners should probably address the issue as increasing the pay could deter many Danish households from hiring au pairs.

Glaring increase
Statistics from the Danish Ministry of Refugee, Immigration and Integration Affairs showed a glaring increase in the number of Filipinos hired as au pairs in Denmark. This year alone, from January to August, a total of 1,375 out of the 1,892 au pairs working in Denmark are Filipinos, a staggering 73 percent.
Last year, 1,510 out of the 2,207 au pair permits were issued to Filipinos. Six years ago, there were only 124 Filipino au pairs in Denmark out of the 1,156 permits that were issued.
Under the immigration and labor laws, au pairs, who should be between the ages of 17 and 30, can stay in Denmark for a period not exceeding 18 months, although in exceptional conditions, their stay can be extended to up to 24 months.

Ban imposed
The number of Filipino au pairs is increasing despite a ban by the Philippine government since 1998 on the deployment of female migrant workers under the au pair program. It was imposed after reports of abuse, discrimination and prostitution of Filipino au pairs in the Netherlands.
The FOA study showed that many of the Filipino au pairs in Denmark have already incurred debts in the Philippines for bribes paid to allow them to leave the country. This unpleasant situation leaves no room for the Filipino au pairs but to resort to illegal work and accept the minimal allowance.
Aside from Denmark, the number of Filipino au pairs is also increasing in Norway. Last year, 1,103 of the 1,760 au pairs in Norway were Filipinos, or a total of 63 percent. In 2006, 587 out of the 1,243 permits issued were given to Filipino nationals.
Denmark and Norway through their joint embassy in Manila have issued an important notice to au pairs who have received permits and issued visa that “the embassy is not in the position to assist (the au pairs) if (they) will not be allowed exit by the Philippine Immigration authorities at the airport.”
The notice added that neither is the embassy in a position to certify or authenticate any deployment of contract.

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