Au pair industry struggling to entice Kiwis into work as border controls block international applicants

Source: 1News

New Zealand’s au pair industry is struggling to attract Kiwis to fill jobs, despite a lack of international applicants to contend with and many out of work due to Covid-19.

Au pair

It’s a job that traditionally attracts applicants from outside New Zealand, but the border closures have meant au pair agencies such as Au Pair Link and Playschool haven’t been able to place anyone from overseas.

The day borders closed, New Zealand-based Au Pair Link had already pre-matched around 100 international applicants with families in New Zealand.

This meant that a raft of families were left in the lurch, without home-based care for their children. Au Pair Link says many of those families were essential workers, the likes of police officers and people working in healthcare.

Some of those roles have since been filled by travellers who arrived prior to the borders closing, but many families are yet to be placed with an au pair and agencies are struggling to attract Kiwis to the job - even with widespread Covid-19 redundancies and many left unemployed across the country.

Morgan Holyoake, managing director of Au Pair Link, says the biggest barrier for New Zealanders is having to live in.

“New Zealanders already have homes, and part of the au pair package is living in and they’re not without a home.”

In May, Au Pair Link began offering applicants the opportunity to gain their level four ECE certificate for free, to entice Kiwis into the field.

Paired with free board and accommodation, and a weekly wage, Ms Holyoake thought it was a good deal. But, it hasn’t worked.

“We would love to give Kiwis jobs, it's our main priority, but they just aren’t interested."

Carissa Vaudrey, managing director of Playschool Au Pairs says they too have tried to utilise local talent who may have become unemployed due to Covid-19, but to no avail.

“We’ve all diversified our companies but Kiwis are still on the wage subsidy, and they don’t want to live in," says Ms Vaudrey.

“There’s really nothing we can do, we’ve just had very little traction, it’s very evident that people don’t want the job.”

Border exemption denied

Au Pair Link is one of three agencies, including Playschool, calling for the Government to provide them with a border exemption, such as the one the Avatar film crew were given, to continue offering their services to Kiwi families.

Ms Holyoake says their industry has the ability to provide around $10 million a year in taxes to the Government, not to mention the support it provides for Kiwi parents working in essential roles.

But, their application for exemption visas for their au pairs was denied by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. They've also contacted various MPs to plead their case and submitted a petition to Parliament. 

MBIE told the agencies that based on the information they provided it did “not appear these workers will meet the criteria of a critical worker”.

“We’ve basically been told we employ foreigners and we’re not important,” says Ms Holyoake.

“But that’s not right. Our au pairs are supporting essential workers by enabling them to go to work.”

Ms Vaudrey says if visa exemptions can’t be given, then the Government should provide some form of targeted funding for the industry.

“From a business perspective we are one of very few businesses unable to operate in Level 1. It’s incredibly hard, we haven’t had any targeted financial support other than the wage subsidies.

“If we’re unable to get any au pairs in then we want targeted financial support for the au pair industry because we will go into a hibernation period.”

Essential workers in need of childcare 

If the borders don't reopen by the end of the year, one of Au Pair Link's families has no idea what they will do for childcare.

Laura Pateman and her husband have four children and are both essential workers in the healthcare industry with demanding work schedules, not the usual 9-5. 

The Pateman's scrambled to find a fill-in au pair until the one they were placed with from Germany can get into the country at the end of year. But, if that can't happen, Ms Pateman says either her or her husband will have to look at working less. 

She says they tried to find someone to employ locally, but have had no luck.  

"We’ve had no one in New Zealand wanting to be an au pair," says Ms Pateman.

"We don't know what we'll do, it just works so well for us."

Redundancies and hibernation

As business operations grow smaller and smaller, and no end is in sight to the border closures, agencies are having to make redundancies of their own.

Ms Holyoake says every week au pairs are leaving the country, with no replacements arriving, which is directly impacting specific roles in the Au Pair Link team.

“As families drop off our system, the size of our team does too...It’s really upsetting.

“We’re hanging on by a string right now.”

Ms Vaudrey says their services support essential workers, and it's interesting that those workers are the ones that are losing out now.

"It's really sad that these are the people that New Zealand relied on during lockdown and now they don’t have any help or support.

"It's interesting that these are the people that basically stood up and helped people through lockdown and now there's no help for them to continue working."