The minister of labour, Thulas Nxesi, has announced that South Africa will have a new minimum wage of R20.76 as of 1 March 2020.
In a gazette published on Tuesday (18 February), Nxesi also outlined the new minimum wages for a number of major sectors not covered by the minimum wage – including domestic workers.
From 1 March 2020, domestic workers will be entitled to a minimum wage of R15.57 per hour – an increase of 57 cents from the current baseline.
The reason for the lower wage is due to the higher risk of unemployment for domestic workers if the minimum wage is too high, National Treasury said in its NWM document.
While this increases will be welcomed by some, it is unlikely to help struggling workers who are already battling to make ends meet.
According to parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, domestic workers are among the most vulnerable occupational groups of people in society.
“Many domestic workers have to face exploitative working conditions, disrespectful treatment, low wages, long hours and few employment benefits.
“The work that is performed by domestic workers is often undervalued because it takes place in the home,” said Ncube-Ndaba.
Research from the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity Group shows that R15 an hour is also simply not enough to feed a family of four with nutritional food they need to live.
The group said that 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.
As of January 2020, a domestic worker who works 8 hours a day, 22 days a month will earn R2,740 under the new national minimum wage – this would still leave the worker R1,749 in the red, after basic food costs and the bare minimum living needs.
This gets worse for domestic workers who earn exempted rates (10% less than NMW) or who have less work – something that is becoming a stark reality for many workers, as private households shed jobs in the sector.
StatsSA’s latest data shows that 16,000 domestic workers lost their jobs in 2019, though the country still employs about 1 million workers.
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 (22 days, 8 hours a day), domestic workers would be paid R26 an hour (R205 a day) – R5.43 more than the new minimum wage.