Domestic workers reel under inflation, power cut effects

Published Jul 31, 2023


The effects of South Africa’s power cuts, inflation, cost of living and brain drain disproportionately affect domestic workers – 94% of whom are women.

This is according to data from SweepSouth’s 2023 Report on Domestic Workers Pay and Work Conditions, released on Sunday.

The survey recorded the responses of more than 5 500 participants, revealing the average domestic worker in South Africa is 37 years old and earns about R2 989 a month from domestic work as the only source of income while being the only breadwinner in the family, supporting an average of four dependants.

The domestic worker has to split this money among daily expenses such as food – which has seen 12% price increases over the past year – housing, transport, electricity, mobile phone data or airtime, school fees and more.

The average domestic worker spends around R694 more than they earn, is unable to save, has no medical aid and owes about R3 599 to shops, friends and loan sharks, among others.

“Consistent with previous reports, we can see the significant burden placed on domestic workers to support themselves and their families at home. Continued economic difficulties will compound the pressure on workers,” said Luke Kannemeyer, managing director at SweepSouth.

The report also revealed masses of job losses suffered by domestic workers in the past year, with the leading cause of job losses coming from employers moving home and 59% of those employers moving overseas. This represents a 15% percent increase in domestic workers who lost their means of income due to brain drain in South Africa this year, compared with 2022.

About 68% of those who lost their jobs last year were not registered for the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), and 52% of those registered were able to submit successful claims.

The report also looked at the effects of South Africa’s electricity crisis, with about 35% of respondents reporting load shedding caused them to lose employers.

In terms of the impact of load shedding on a domestic worker’s day, 58% believe it has had an impact on their working hours – either longer or shorter. Load shedding also has an impact on their commute, with 69% saying it added extra time to their travel from home to work. More than half say it affected how safe they feel during their commute.

Just over one in five respondents (22%) say they suffered from either verbal, physical or sexual abuse in their workplace. According to the survey, men were slightly more likely to have experienced verbal or physical abuse than female workers, while foreign workers were more likely to have experienced this abuse than locals.

In terms of mental health, the largest aggravator was unemployment, followed by debt/financial stress and family problems. A higher proportion of women than men reported they don’t do anything specific to care for their mental health.

“I often feel depressed because of the strain lack of employment has caused,” a domestic worker said.

“I have been having sleepless nights on how I’m going to feed my kids and pay my other bills,” another respondent said.

While the recovery of livelihoods was never expected to be a smooth ride as the dust settles after Covid-19, few would have predicted the dire circumstances South Africans find themselves in today with unprecedented levels of load shedding and a cost of living crisis, the report reads.

“Interest rates have increased steadily in an effort to curtail rising inflation resulting in all segments feeling the pinch, especially new homeowners who were able to take advantage of low interest rates during the pandemic.

“This has compounded the job losses and economic hardship for domestic workers and even though some encouraging signs are evident in this year’s report, the general outlook is still grim,” the report reads.

Cape Times