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Domestic workers in SA buckle under debt due to lockdown

Domestic workers in South Africa were buckling under debt and underemployment due to the Covid-19 lockdown, a survey revealed.

Domestic workers in South Africa were buckling under debt and underemployment due to the Covid-19 lockdown, a survey revealed.

Published Oct 13, 2020

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CAPE TOWN - A survey that probes the pay and working conditions for domestic workers in South Africa revealed that debt and underemployment among domestic workers have peaked during the lockdown.

The lockdown, brought on by the Coronavirus pandemic, was imposed on March 27 by President Cyril Ramaphosa. Since then regulations have steadily been relaxed, however; the financial implications brought on by it still remain.

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According to the survey conducted by home cleaning company SweepSouth, debt and underemployment suffered by domestic workers were due to reduced spending by middle-class households which offered fewer hours or work opportunities to domestic workers.

Increasing job losses and the overall negative impact of the lockdown on the economy has seen South Africa’s expanded unemployment rate rocket to 42 percent for the second quarter of 2020.

About 80 percent of domestic workers questioned said they worked fewer than eight hours a day, and 74 percent earning less than R2 500 a month – up significantly from the pre-lockdown figure of 37 percent.

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"The reduction of incomes due to the pandemic meant that 69 percent of workers could not afford to cover their housing costs. 8 percent of the workers were forced to borrow funds to cover their rent, while 4 percent moved somewhere cheaper. The majority, however, are sitting in limbo, having missed payments but expected to repay these at some later point," the survey revealed.

It further highlighted that 70 percent of domestic workers s are in debt.

"What is worrying but not unexpected is that the pandemic and subsequent lockdown has plunged 46 percent of workers further into debt. More worrying still, 42 percent of workers do not have an end in sight for when they can repay their debt with 28 percent feeling like their situation is hopeless.

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"Generally, domestic workers are borrowing funds from their family and friends. With almost half not knowing when they can pay back their debt, this reveals a potentially larger problem in that when they default, this can have both social implications as well as financial implications for themselves and others within their community," the survey suggested.

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