In Britain, there are estimated to be 100,000 families who employ a nanny. Once a service for the elite, the vast increase in working mothers has led to a growth in middle-class couples providing work for nannies. But many are already struggling to pay increasing childcare costs and additional paid annual leave could mean they have to look for alternative arrangements for their children.
However, childcare experts welcomed the increasing professional status of nannies and said that many work under poor conditions because of the lack of regulation. The directive comes into force on 23 November. Richard Fraser, of the Professional Association of Nursery Nurses, which includes nannies, said: "The private relationship between a nanny and the family means that many parents deliberately don't give their nannies paid holiday or good conditions but others are just not experienced at being an employer."
The demand for more child care has been driven by mothers returning to work. In 1989 only 28 per cent of women in Britain with children under the age of five returned to work, compared with more than two-thirds in 1999. Affordable child care has become a priority for many families.
The latest figures show that 371,000 children are looked after by childminders, and 223,000 by day nurseries. However, many mothers choose to employ a daily or live-in nanny because they want their children to be cared for in their own home environment. Colette Kelleher, director of the DayCare Trust, said: "No one really knows the conditions the majority of nannies are working under because there is no regulation and no lever to enforce good practice. Nanny contracts are a private arrangement. There is only anecdotal evidence that they are working under quite variable conditions with some under the statutory minimum."
At the moment, many nannies get taken on holiday with the families they work for, as part of their "holiday", which is a breach of employment laws
Laura Livingstone, an employment law specialist with the City law firm Taylor Joynson Garrett, said: "Nannies are entitled like other employees to a minimum of four weeks' paid holidays a year including all bank holidays. A lot get taken on the family holiday but this is hardly a break for the nanny."
Ruth Williams, of Southall, London, has been a nanny for 18 years. She is a qualified nursery nurse and at 37 has decided to work part-time because of the excessive demands that working couples put on live-in nannies.
She said: "It is a very intimate relationship that develops with the family and the more you give the more they take and you can end up with no time to yourself. I have always tried to have a contract and some paid holiday, even if it was minimal."
Although many families she had worked for were very good, some did not give her much paid annual leave and many working couples thought live- in nannies should drop everything if they were needed.
"Some of my friends have been called back from their holiday after a few days because the family can't cope. It is the unqualified nannies who are most at risk because the families think they have got you hook, line and sinker," she said.