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 dependants at home.
The information is contained in 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.
The report details the extent to which workers continue to sacrifice basic needs as costs outstrip earnings. The report also paints a picture of single-parent-led households with four to five children whose well-being depends only on income generated by domestic work.
The domestic worker split their salaries among daily expenses such as food (which has seen 12% price increases over the past year), housing, transport, electricity, cellphone 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,” the reports said.
Financial indicators at a glance
75% don’t make enough money to save
Only 9% have savings
35% are in debt
SweepSouth managing director Luke Kannemeyer said: “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.”
Domestic workers suffered masses of job losses 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% 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, and only 52% of those registered were able to submit successful claims,“ the report said.
“This motivates the urgent contemplation of universal unemployment benefits to ensure greater coverage and easier access,” said Kannemeyer.
Unemployment is the number one challenge negatively impacting the mental health of domestic workers.
“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 said.