Statistics South Africa’s latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) survey shows that hiring for domestic workers has dropped significantly over the last year.
The QLFS shows that the number of domestic workers in the country decreased from 949,000 in Q4 2021, to 808,000 workers in Q1 2022 – a shock 14.9 percentage point decrease quarter-on-quarter.
While this trend can partly be attributed to seasonal changes, the increased cost of living costs at the start of 2022 has also likely led to increased retrenchment as domestic workers are seen as a luxury for many South Africans.
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 2021 showed that an estimated 20% of domestic workers lost their job over the last year due to the pandemic. While this figure rebounded significantly as lockdown restrictions were eased, the latest data points to increased fragility in the sector.
The Department of Employment and Labour has said that it plans to ramp up inspections in the domestic worker sector as it aims to ensure compliance with the new minimum wage and other regulatory changes.
The inspections come after South Africa aligned domestic worker wages with the national minimum wage for the first time in March 2022. Domestic workers can now also be registered as employees with the Compensation Fund against injuries on duty. The national minimum wage for each ordinary hour worked increased from R21,69 to R23.19 from 1 March 2022.
Assuming a domestic worker is working 160 hours a month (eight hours a day, 20 days a month), the monthly wage comes to R3,710 for the month.
While this is the absolute lowest that South Africans can legally pay their domestic worker, data published by cleaning service SweepSouth in 2021 shows not only a dramatic drop in earnings due to the pandemic, but a continued trend of domestic workers not earning enough to cover their most basic needs.