Sydney - The majority of au pairs working in Australia are being exploited, a wide-ranging study alleged Thursday, citing a lack of government accountability in place to protect young visitors.
A country-wide survey of 1,500 au pairs - who traditionally perform light, part-time duties - found 60 per cent were working 36-hour weeks while being paid less than the national minimum wage.
The study was conducted by the University of Technology Sydney and Macquarie University.
Thousands of young overseas visitors work in Australia as au pairs, mostly young European women on working holiday visas.
Many work under informal arrangements, whereby a family offers board and a small amount of money in exchange for childminding and light housekeeping duties.
On average they were working just a few hours less than full time for AU$17.10 per hour (US$12.50), slightly lower than the national minimum wage, researchers said, although the figure included the value of the board and lodging provided.
Australia's high cost of childcare is seen as the main driver of the trend.
"The demand for au pairing is often explained by Australian families' need for affordable childcare," the report's co-author Laurie Berg from UTS said in a statement.
"But the study indicates many families are taking advantage of the large supply of working holidaymakers to obtain cheap housekeeping services as well."
The report found that young holidaymakers were left vulnerable by a lack of clear regulation and even "an agreed definition" of an au pair among government agencies.
There is no specific visa, official program or even any official guidelines for travellers or those who offer them work.
"Families need to understand that along with the convenience and affordability of in-home care come full responsibilities as employers," Macquarie University sociology professor Gabrielle Meagher said.
Australia came under fire last year for its treatment of international students and backpackers.
There were more than 900,000 temporary migrants in the country in 2017, including foreign students.
A joint survey released last November of over 4,000 temporary migrants by the University of Technology Sydney and the University of New South Wales found that about one-third were paid half the minimum wage.