DOMESTIC workers, of which 94% are women, are disproportionately affected by the effects of South Africa’s power outages, inflation, high cost of living, and brain drain.
In South Africa, the typical domestic worker is the family’s sole breadwinner and primary caregiver, caring for an average of four dependants at home. This is clear in the information gathered from SweepSouth’s 2023 Report on Domestic Workers Pay and Work Conditions.
The survey documented the responses of more than 5 500 participants. The 6th version of the yearly report uncovered that the average domestic worker in South Africa is 37 years old and earns about R2 989 per month, as their main source of income, while being the only breadwinner in the family.
The report found that an average domestic worker has to divide this money among daily expenses such as school fees, housing, transport, electricity, cellphone data or airtime, and food, the price of which has risen by 12% in the past year.
The ordinary domestic worker spends an estimated R694 more than they acquire, cannot save, has no medical aid and owes an average R3 599 to shops, companions and stokvels.
Looking at financial indicators, the report found that 75% of domestic workers do not make enough money to save, only 9% have savings and 35% are in debt. Due to inflation and the rising cost of living, it’s no surprise that the only way domestic workers have increased their income in the past year has been by taking on more roles. However, those are the lucky ones.
Luke Kannemeyer, the managing director of SweepSouth, said consistent with previous reports, they could 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.”
The SweepSouth report uncovered masses of employment misfortunes endured by domestic workers in the previous year, with the main source of employment setback coming from employers moving home and 59% of those employers moving abroad.
This shows a 15% increase in domestic workers who lost their means of income due to brain drain in South Africa this year, compared to 2022. In addition, 68% of those who lost their jobs last year were not registered with the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), and only 52% of those registered were able to submit successful claims.
“This motivates the urgent contemplation of universal unemployment benefits to ensure greater coverage and easier access,” Kannemeyer said.
Load shedding likewise made a devastating impact.
The report examined the effects of South Africa's electricity crisis for the first time this year. It found that many domestic workers who lost their jobs in the past year believed that load shedding was a factor in their job loss.
“Power cuts likewise adversely affected the well-being and transportation of domestic workers as they navigate the rolling blackouts. As expected, unemployment negatively impacts the mental health of domestic workers in South Africa,” reads the report.
Domestic worker Nonhlanhla Ngcobo said with the increase in prices, life had gotten extremely difficult especially because most of her family members do not work and depend on her. This has put immense pressure on her financially and psychologically.
On the positive side, the survey showed that while the circumstances are still exceptionally difficult for domestic workers in South Africa, earnings continue to rise for domestic workers who use the SweepSouth platform.
Kannemeyer explained that while South Africa has minimum wage and other labour legislation protecting domestic workers, the report indicated that this is often not adhered to.
“Without innovative ways to improve implementation and enforcement, domestic workers will not see much benefit,” he said.