The effects of South Africa’s power cuts, inflation, cost of living and brain drain disproportionately affect domestic workers – 94% of whom are women. The average domestic worker in South Africa is their family’s sole breadwinner and sole caregiver, supporting an average of four dependents at home. This is apparent in the data gleaned from SweepSouth’s 2023 Report on Domestic Workers Pay and Work Conditions, released today.
Distilling the survey responses of more than 5,500 participants, the sixth edition of the annual report reveals that the average domestic worker in South Africa is 37 years old and earns about R2,989 a month from domestic work as her only source of income while being the only breadwinner in her family. She 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 other expenses.
The average domestic worker spends around R694 more than she earns, is unable to save, has no medical aid and owes about R3,599 to shops, friends and loan sharks, among others.
- 75% don’t make enough money to save
- Only 9% have savings
- 35% are in debt
Given the fact that inflation and cost of living are on the rise, it’s not surprising that the only way for domestic worker earnings to increase in the past year, has been for them (42%) to take on more roles in order to generate more income. But those are the lucky ones.
“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,” says Luke Kannemeyer, Managing Director at SweepSouth.
The report also reveals 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 to 2022. Moreover, 68% of those who lost their jobs last year were not registered for 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,” adds Kannemeyer.
Loadshedding also had devastating effects. For the first time this year, the report also looked at the effects of South Africa’s electricity crisis and found that many domestic workers, who lost their jobs in the past year, felt that loadshedding played a role in their loss of employment. Power cuts also negatively impacted the safety and commutes of domestic workers as they navigate the rolling blackouts.
Predictably, unemployment is the number one challenge negatively impacting the mental health of South Africa’s domestic workers.
More positively, the survey shows that while the situation is still very challenging for domestic workers in South Africa, earnings continue the upward trend reported in 2022 for those domestic workers who use the SweepSouth platform.
“While South Africa has minimum wage and other labour legislation protecting domestic workers, the report indicates that this is often not adhered to. Without innovative ways to improve implementation and enforcement, domestic workers will not see much benefit,” Kannemeyer concludes.