How many domestic workers lost their jobs during lockdown

 ·12 Nov 2020

Statistics South Africa has published its Quarterly Labour Force Survey for the third quarter of 2020, showing how the country’s employment market has begun to recover after the peak of coronavirus lockdown.

The data shows that the number of employed persons increased by 543,000 (3.8%) to 14.7 million compared to the second quarter of 2020. This means that employment remains nearly 1.7 million below the level in Q3 2019.

Unemployment increased substantially by 2.2 million (52.1%) to 6.5 million, compared to the second quarter of 2020.

One of the job groups hid hardest by the lockdown are domestic workers, with 259,000 losing their jobs in Q2 2020 – a year-on-year decrease of 25.1%.

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

However, StatsSA’s latest data shows that the sector has seen a relatively strong rebound, with 119,000 domestic worker jobs added in Q3 2020. This means that the total number of employed domestic workers increased to 864,000 be the end of September.

Despite this improvement. the data shows that a net total of 163,000 domestic workers have lost their jobs since the start of the year.

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 published by digital-booking cleaning service SweepSouth in September  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 establishment of a national minimum wage was a notable achievement, but it is clear that this is becoming increasingly inadequate to cover even the bare minimum of household expenditure. This has forced many families to take on debt which often spirals out of control.

“With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown, the majority of workers fell below the R2,500 threshold (74%). Given that their costs have shown no sign of decreasing, this has placed phenomenal pressure on already struggling households.”

The poll 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).

Read: South Africa unemployment jumps 52% in the third quarter

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