Data shows domestic workers losing their jobs as South Africans leave the country

New data published by SweepSouth shows the devastating impact of emigration and semigration on domestic workers in South Africa.

The group published its fifth annual domestic worker survey on Monday (1 August), outlining trends in how personal employees get paid in the country and how their lives have been impacted by the Covid pandemic and shifts in employment.

SweepSouth’s survey – which drew 7,500 responses, giving it a comprehensive view of the sector – showed that domestic workers were under significant pressure from an economic standpoint as well as a social one.

A quarter of the respondents (25%) said they had lost their job in the last year, drawing a line under data from various sources saying the same thing, like the Old Mutual Savings and Investment Monitor survey (OMSIM) and numbers from Stats SA.

Data published from Statistics South Africa’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) for Q1 2022 showed that hiring for domestic workers dropped significantly during the quarter.

The QLFS shows that the number of domestic workers in the country decreased from 949,000 in Q4 2021 to 808,000 workers in Q1 2022 – a shock 14.9 percentage point decrease quarter-on-quarter, or a loss of 141,000 jobs.

SweepSouth estimates that around 100,000 female domestic workers and 25,000 male domestic workers have lost their job since its last report – and that second-quarter data from Stats SA for 2022 will show a continuation of this trend.

“Job losses were dominated by two causes: employers no longer being able to afford the services of their domestic worker and their employer moving home,” SweepSouth said.

More than a quarter (28%) of domestic workers said they lost their job because their employer had moved: 33% of the employers moved to a different town or city in South Africa, while nearly half (48%)moved to another country.

“These trends have been compounded by the accelerating emigration of skilled professionals as well as the semigration trends seen during the Covid-19 pandemic,” SweepSouth said.

The second biggest factor in domestic workers losing their jobs was an employer not being able to afford to pay them, SweepSouth said.

Old Mutual’s Savings and Investment Monitor survey (OMSIM) shows that more South African households are choosing to do without a domestic worker to save money each month.

Almost a third of households interviewed by Old Mutual for the study indicated that they would cut down on and move away from domestic help around the home.

Historically, Old Mutual’s OMSIM has shown that domestic workers are often one of the first monthly household expenses to get cut when tough financial times hit.

SweepSouth’s report shows that the median earnings for domestic workers in South Africa is R2,929 per month for women and R2,797 for men. Childcare workers came in with the highest average at R2,997 per month on average with a median of five days worked.

These figures are still well below the national minimum wage set for domestic workers in the country.

From 1 March 2022, the National Minimum Wage for each ordinary hour worked increased from R21.69 to R23.19. For domestic workers, the increase in minimum wage was much larger, from a rate of R19.09 per hour – 88% of the national minimum wage in 2021.

Assuming a domestic worker is working 160 hours a month (eight hours a day, 20 days a month), the monthly wage comes to R3,710 for the month. Minimum wages are expected to be increased again in 2023.

The biggest sample of domestic workers in SweepSouth’s survey said they worked a full day – between 8 and 9 hours a day, five days a week.

Read: How much the average domestic worker is paid in South Africa

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