Big turn for domestic workers in South Africa

 ·20 Feb 2024

Four years after the Covid-19 pandemic caused South Africa to bleed a quarter of a million domestic worker jobs, the sector has managed to recover about half the lost jobs.

The latest data from Statistics South Africa showed a positive direction for domestic workers in South Africa, with 17,000 more workers finding employment in the sector over the last three months of the year.

This was also 13,000 more workers employed in the sector compared to Q4 2022.

Overall, 2023 saw about 79,000 domestic worker jobs recovered from the year’s start of 797,000 employed.

The year’s final quarter also marked the third quarter of increased employment for the sector in a row – breaking the up-and-down trend seen over the last four years.

However, while the overall results and direction are positive when looking at the numbers in the shorter term, the reality is that the 876,000 workers employed in the sector are still a long way away from the 1 million domestic workers who were employed before the pandemic.

Following the onset of the pandemic and the government’s lockdown interventions, Stats SA’s data showed that the sector had lost 250,000 jobs in the first half of the year.

Since then, only around 125,000 of these jobs have been recovered – a 50% recovery rate. The remaining 125,000 jobs are still lost, and total employment is still close to 20% lower than pre-pandemic levels.

According to Nedbank, the employment data also needs to be understood in a greater context: private household employment (which included domestic workers) has remained flat for the last two years and has shown a net loss of 159,000 jobs since Q4 2019 and a 1% decline since Q4 2023.

“Total employment continues to trend above pre-pandemic levels. However, the unemployment rate remains above the prepandemic rate as employment is not growing fast enough to absorb both new entrants into the labour market, the unemployed, and the many discouraged workers,” Nedbank said.

Domestic worker jobs, in particular, are inextricably tied to the economic prospects for private households and the performance of the wider economy in South Africa.

When exceptionally tough economic times hit – as has been the case for the last three or four years – households clamp down and tighten their belts, and luxuries like domestic help are often some of the first expenses to go.

In this context, the prospects for domestic workers in South Africa look dim.

“The unfavourable economic environment clouds employment prospects,” Nedbank said, including the country’s crippling structural constraints, notably power outages and transport bottlenecks as part of the wider issues hitting the economy.

“We expect employment growth to soften this year before picking up more convincingly next year. The unemployment rate will, therefore, remain high.”

Read: New minimum wage for South Africa – here’s how much domestic workers should be paid

Show comments
Subscribe to our daily newsletter