Here’s how many domestic workers lost their jobs during lockdown

Stats SA has published its latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey for the three months to June 2020, showing that 2.2 million South Africans lost their jobs in the second quarter of 2020.

One of the groups hid hardest by the lockdown are domestic workers, with 259,000 losing their jobs over the period – a year-on-year decrease of 25.1%.

This means that the number of active domestic workers in the county has decreased from just over a million at the start of 2020, to 745,000 as at the end of June.

StatsSA noted that domestic workers were particularly hard hit compared to other professions, as they were unable to work from home, during lockdown.

The number of people who were able to continue to work from home during the period was relatively high among those in professional (44.7%) and managerial (40.6%) occupations, but reached only 0.6% for domestic workers.

Given the current economic environment in South Africa, and increasing household debt, it is unlikely that many of these jobs will be reabsorbed anytime soon.

Domestic work is one of the lowest paid occupations in the country with a minimum wage of R15.57 an hour. However, many households still rely on this income for basic survival.

Data from cleaning service SweepSouth shows not only a dramatic drop in earnings due to the pandemic, but a continued trend prior to the lockdown of domestic workers not earning enough to cover their most basic needs, the group said.

While most workers were earning greater than R2,500 (63%) before lockdown, only a small minority (14%) were earning above R4,000 which is generally considered to be a living wage.

The group’s data shows that:

  • The average SweepSouth domestic worker earns R3,359
  • The average non-SweepSouth domestic worker earns R2,814
  • Minimum wage is R2,740 (R15.57 an hour).

A poll of 4,412 BusinessTech readers in September shows that they paid slightly more, with just 8% (354 respondents) paying minimum wage.

By comparison, 15% of respondents said that they paid R4,500 or more a month, while 22.4% of respondents said that they paid between R2,750 and R4,500 per month.

While an increasing number of domestic workers are facing unemployment and stagnant wages, SweepSouth’s data shows a sharp rise (44%) in the cost of living for domestic workers during the Covid-19 pandemic when compared to 2019.

This is in sharp contrast to the annual consumer price inflation figures reported by Stats SA for June 2020 of 2.2%, the group said.

Total average monthly basic expenses stood at R4,225 per month (34% 2019: R3,137 per month).

This is slightly lower than the expected R4,423 to cover basic necessities for a household of 4 as reported in the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity Group’s (PEJD) Household Affordability Index.


Read: 2.2 million South Africans lost their jobs under lockdown

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Here’s how many domestic workers lost their jobs during lockdown