Here’s how many domestic workers there are in South Africa – and the wage changes you should know about

 ·24 Aug 2021

Statistics South Africa’s latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) survey shows that hiring for domestic workers has improved significantly over the last year.

The QLFS shows that the number of domestic workers in the country increased from 745,000 in Q2 2020, to 892,000 workers in Q2 2021.

This annual increase of 147,000 domestic worker jobs was larger than almost any other segment over the past year, surpassing technicians (106,000), craft and related trades (78,000), plant and machine operators (25,000) and sales and services (20,000) occupations, StatsSA said.

The significant increase can be partially attributed to the Covid-19 lockdown, as more than 259,000 domestic workers lost their jobs in Q2 2020 – a year-on-year decrease of 25.1%.

Domestic workers were effectively blocked from working during the country’s highest level 5 lockdown in 2020. In addition, a number of households retrenched domestic workers, citing concerns around costs.

Data published by cleaning service SweepSouth in June showed that an estimated 20% of domestic workers lost their job over the last year due to the pandemic.

New minimum wage 

Trade federation Cosatu says that a number of new regulations are expected to benefit domestic workers in South Africa over the coming year – including a new minimum wage in 2022.

As of March 2021, the minimum wage in South Africa is R21.69 for each working hour, However, domestic workers are currently seen as an exception under the National Minimum Wage Act and are entitled to a minimum wage of R19.09 per hour.

The national minimum wage commission said that ideally, a national minimum wage should be applicable to all employees across the country and irrespective of sector.

To avoid excessive disruption, however, the Minimum Wage Act established lower minimums for farm and domestic workers, with a process of gradual equalisation to the national minimum wage over time.

The commission has since recommended that the minimum wage of domestic workers be increased to 88% of the national minimum wage in 2021 and to 100% in 2022.

This adjustment of the minimum wage for domestic workers and farmworkers would amount to an increase of about R450 per month for a domestic worker.

What domestic workers earn

Data from Sweepsouth showed that domestic workers who are not on its platform saw a decrease in their average earnings from last year, and below the minimum wage increase in 2021.

According to the data, domestic workers – not on the SweepSouth platform – earn between R2,614 and R2,916 a month. The minimum wage for domestic workers is just over R3,000 a month.

The more worrying finding from the survey is that one in five domestic workers (21%) are earning less than R1,500 a month, and two-thirds earn below minimum wage.

Only 1% reported earning more than R6,000 a month.

Read: How South Africa’s new retirement system will work: Treasury

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