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The risks of cutting out the ‘middle man’ for nannies and household managers

The online world provides seemingly endless opportunities for those who dream of working for themselves. As a nanny or household manager, why work for an agency like us when you can cut out the ‘middle man’? All you need to do is put an ad on a website, at little or no cost, and find your own work. Get paid cash and you won’t even need to pay tax. Easy … yes?

Well, actually, NO.

We recently heard the experience of a young nanny that demonstrated all too well the risks associated with taking this ‘solo’ approach. Her story shows how cutting corners and bypassing ‘the system’ works both ways. If potential employees can cut corners, so too can potential employers, and that can lead to some very dubious, if not downright scary, situations.

The subject of the story – we’ll call her Amy – was a university student who was out of work and was very keen to find a job. She placed an ad on the ‘Gumtree’ website, on which you can advertise anything from a car to your own labour.

Amy described herself as a 20-year-old female looking for ‘cleaning, babysitting or waitressing work…’ In order to maximise her chances of a response, Amy included her mobile phone number in her ad, something the website recommends.

In the week or so after placing the ad, Amy received four responses.

The first was from someone who sent her a message giving her the opportunity to ‘be my girl’, for which she would be paid $2000 per week plus free accommodation.

The second was an offer to be a ‘masseuse’. When Claire replied that she was not qualified for the job, the employer told her that she would be trained and that she would quickly get ‘regular clients’. Claire asked them for their company name but they had none, nor a website or any other form of proof that they really existed.

The third offer was a little more promising, though only just. It was a text message offering bar work at $15 per hour. After Amy established that the work would involve essentially running a cocktail bar on her own – practically managing the bar – and questioned the pay rate, she was offered ‘$20 an hour if you wear revealing clothing’.

The fourth offer was the most dubious of all. Let’s not go into the details, suffice to say it involved ‘working’ in front of a camera for a fairly substantial fee.

Eventually, Amy did get a genuine offer of cleaning work but as she drove to the house of the client her previous experiences made her very wary. It worked out, but so easily might not have.

This is the sort of world that ‘going it alone’ potentially takes you into, and it applies as much to in-home child care and household management as to the sort of work Amy was looking for.

Anyone working ‘outside the system’ needs to be careful about who they work for and under what circumstances. They need to protect themselves against low pay (most cash employers pay less than the award rate), against not being provided with legal entitlements such as superannuation contributions and workers compensation insurance, against the tax department (cash-in-hand arrangements are illegal for both employer and employee) and, of course, against maltreatment.

Choosing an employer that outsources (or is willing to outsource) the administrative side of the job (wages, superannuation, insurance, etc.) to a company like Just Family Payroll is a good way of ensuring that your rights will be looked after. Before starting any job like nannying or household management it’s certainly worth checking what the payroll arrangements will be.

The subject of our story learnt her lesson. In future, she will be dealing with agencies and employers who play by the rules. She learnt the hard way that the supposed benefits of flying completely solo really aren’t worth the risks.