South Africans employ just over one million domestic workers in homes across the country – though tough economic times have put pressure on this workforce.
For domestic workers, the pressures of the economy are felt two-fold, as not only are their jobs at risk whenever belts have to be tightened, but they feel the price pressures of having to provide for their own families at home.
The latest Household Affordability Index for May 2019 by the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity Group, shows that domestic workers are currently some of the most vulnerable workers in the country, even with the introduction of the National Minimum Wage (NMW) in January 2019.
Domestic workers are some of the worst-off under the new NMW, with the introductory standards set below the actual rate of R20 per hour.
For domestics, the NMW rate is R15 per hour – but the wage laws allow for employers to apply for exemptions, which could reduce this by 10% to R13.50 an hour.
In either scenario, however, the PEJD says this is simply not enough to feed a family of four with a nutritional foods they need to live, let alone provide for all the other household expenses that are needed each month.
According to the group’s research, the cost of feeding a family of four in South Africa ranges from R1,276 per month for core foods, to R2,474 per month for a basic nutritionally complete basket of food.
With bigger families, which is often commonplace in South Africa, these prices can increase to as much as R4,236 per month for a family of seven.
Domestic worker wages
Looking at three different scenarios for both wage levels, there is no outcome where domestic workers will be able to feed their families and also cover other basic household expenses each month.
In the first scenario – working 21 days, for 8 hours a day – a domestic worker on minimum wage would earn just R2,520 a month. After food costs, transport and electricity alone, they are already sitting at a deficit of R1,579.
In subsequent scenarios this deficit worsens – and if exemptions are applied for, the situation is untenable.
According to the PEJD, in most scenarios it explores, workers and their families do not earn enough money to secure enough nutritious food to eat, let alone all the other critical expenses which have been excluded from the calculations.
“The percentages shown as minimum food shortfall mean that households will be spending far less on food because other expenses must also be paid out of this remaining money. If households are not able to secure even food out of the money remaining, then it is a stark indication of the deficiencies in low baseline wages and grants,” the group said.
What levels work?
In the group’s working scenarios, PEJD’s data shows that a domestic worker who is paid at least R4,500 a month would at least be left with a surplus after non-negotiable expenses like food, transport and electricity were paid off.
At R4,500 a month, in the working scenario (21 days, 8 hours a day), domestic workers would be paid R27 an hour (R214 a day) – R7 more than the current minimum wage, and R12 more than the current minimum set out for domestic workers.
However, when looking at the typical household expenses that most low-income families need – which includes food, basic insurance, airtime, domestic and hygiene products and school fees – this can easily amount to over R7,600 a month.
“The cost data is not complete and excludes many potential expenses. Its purpose is however to provide a sense of what some important household expenses cost for households living on low incomes and further provides insight into what level of income households living on low incomes may require to live at a basic level of dignity,” the PEJD said.
“Households do not prioritise paying for food first out of the remaining goods and services which households need to secure.
“However we include food costs in the calculations because all other critical expenses, some of which households deem non-negotiable like debt servicing, scholar transport and education and burial insurances, and other important expenses like those of household domestic and personal hygiene products all compete viciously for the money remaining in the household purse,” it said.