Home South African Job carnage in domestic worker sector, with one in four losing employment

Job carnage in domestic worker sector, with one in four losing employment

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Approximately 25 percent of domestic workers lost their jobs in the last year, according to the 2022 SweepSouth Report on Pay and Working Conditions for Domestic Workers for South Africa and Kenya.

File picture: Paballo Thekiso

APPROXIMATELY 25 percent of domestic workers lost their jobs in the last year, according to the 2022 SweepSouth Report on Pay and Working Conditions for Domestic Workers for South Africa and Kenya.

The report that was released on Sunday was sent to more than 25,000 domestic workers in South Africa and more than 1,000 in Kenya.

Job losses were dominated by two causes in both countries: employers no longer being able to afford the services of their domestic workers and the employer moving home.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on domestic workers could still be seen as many lost their jobs due to employers moving to different cities as a result of people being able to live and work from almost anywhere.

Semigration was just one of the reasons why 25 percent of South African domestic workers lost their jobs in the last year. Another key reason was that employers could no longer afford domestic workers as a result of Covid-19, the knock-on effects of the war in Ukraine, and the pressures felt by escalating food prices around the world.

“We went into this survey knowing that the numbers would paint a grim picture,” said Aisha Pandor, SweepSouth CEO.

“These past few years have been trying times, and the recent increase in the cost of food, fuel, transport, and more is felt the hardest by those who already have little to spend. This, in turn, affects mental health, physical health, and so much more.”

The survey is in line with the data from Statistics South Africa’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey for quarter one 2022, which showed that the number of domestic workers in the country decreased from 949,000 in quarter four 2021 to 808,000 workers in quarter one 2022 – a shock 14.9 percentage point decrease quarter-on-quarter.

Key findings of the report were that domestic workers were, on average, spending 8 percent more on food and 10 percent more on transport every month compared to last year.

SweepStars noted that 10 percent saved money every month, two percent had medical aid, 18 percent were part of a stokvel, 50 percent had a funeral plan, while 60 percent of domestic workers who are South African were in debt.

However, the survey also found the average earnings for domestic workers in South Africa had increased slightly due to the fact that the minimum wage for domestic workers had been brought in line with the national minimum wage.

The Labour Department most recently updated South Africa’s minimum wage on March 1, with the amount set at R23.19 for each ordinary hour worked, representing an increase of 6.9 percent from the minimum wage set in 2021.

Luke Kannemeyer, SweepSouth’s chief operating officer, said while this might look positive, it should be noted that the cost of living had risen tremendously since last year.

“This year alone, we have seen massive increases in the cost of fuel, transport and food,” he said. “So while income may look as though it has increased, budgets are tighter than ever.”

The survey revealed that there is a high level of debt among South African domestic workers. Over 15 percent of those domestic workers who were in debt owe money to more than four people or institutions, and more than 80 percent reported that, at the time of being surveyed, they would not be able to adequately cover their repayments.

“It is worrying to see that compared to last year’s report, there has been an increase in the number of domestic workers working seven days a week – likely a result of trying to ease their economic pressures. This could have an impact on mental and physical well-being – the former continuing to be a concern as one in five respondents had their mental health negatively affected last year due to fears of unemployment,” the report noted.

The survey further revealed that 21 percent of South African workers faced verbal abuse in the workplace, six percent reported physical abuse, and two percent experienced sexual abuse.

Of those facing abuse at home, the majority of women and men respondents stated that they faced verbal abuse, with the same proportion of women noting that they faced physical abuse at home as men who faced verbal abuse. Around one in four women shared that they faced sexual abuse.

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