16,000 domestic workers lost their jobs last year – here are the sectors hardest hit by job cuts

The latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) from Stats SA shows that despite an addition of 45,000 jobs over the last quarter of 2019, South Africa’s unemployment rate remains at the highest levels in over a decade.

According to the data, South Africa’s unemployment rate has stuck at 29.1% in Q4 2019. The net addition of 45,000 jobs over the quarter was not enough to compensate for the 145,000 people entering the workforce over the same period.

Over 2019 as a whole, there was a net loss of 108,000 jobs.

Year-on-year, the formal sector saw a loss of 15,000 jobs, while the informal sector saw a loss of 83,000 jobs. Private households saw a loss of 46,000 jobs. Only the agriculture sector saw an increase in jobs of 36,000.

Including those entering the workforce who could not find a job, South Africa counted 587,000 more people among the unemployed by the end of the year.

Among different occupations, the largest loss of jobs was in the craft and related trade sector, where 165,000 jobs were lost, followed by technicians, plant and machine operators and elementary workers.

This was only slightly mitigated by growth in professional jobs, sales and service jobs and clerk jobs.

Domestic worker jobs declined, reflecting the tight economic conditions for South African households throughout the year.

By the middle of 2019, 34,000 domestic workers had lost their jobs, but in the third quarter 32,000 more were employed. However, in the last quarter of the year, a further 14,000 domestic workers were left unemployed, leaving a net loss of 16,000 domestic work jobs by the end of the year.

Domestic worker employment follows seasonal trends, and the country has generally had in the region of 1 million domestic workers under employment at any given time over the last decade.

Domestic workers in South Africa

A contributor to the season changes to the employment of domestic workers is the largely informal way many are hired. Many are not employed with written contracts, and work part-time for several households on different days in a week.

When difficult economic times hit, households are quick to drop their domestic worker as a way to cut monthly costs.

A recent poll run by BusinessTech found that 13% of households would be most likely to cut back on using a domestic worker to save money each month.

This was the same level as those who were more willing to cut back on vices like smoking and drinking, or on luxuries like DStv and Netflix. The biggest portion on households (25%) said they would reduce their entertainment or going out spending to cut costs.


Another factor when it comes to domestic worker employability is pay.

Domestic workers are covered by South Africa’s National Minimum Wage Bill, which currently sets the minimum wage at R15 an hour – a rate which is expected to be elevated to 100% of the NMW by 2021.

This rate puts the current minimum wage payable to domestic workers at around R2,400 to R2,700 (for a 40 to 45 hour work week).

A 2019 report by cleaning company SweepSouth found that there was an increase in the average national domestic worker wage to R2,699 per month after the minimum wage was introduced

“The fact that the majority of respondents report that they earn between R2,001 and R3,000 a month means that it is probable that most employers are complying with the minimum wage regulations,” it said.

However, the report showed that a combined 41% of respondents indicated that they are earning less than R2,000 a month – well below minimum wage. Just 16% indicated that they earn more than R4,000 a month.

R15 an hour is also simply not enough to feed a family of four with nutritional food they need to live, let alone provide for all the other household expenses that are needed each month, according to the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity Group.

The group’s 2019 research shows 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.

While domestic workers remain vulnerable, government and labour unions are currently locked in negotiations around a minimum wage increase.

In January, labour at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) said they wanted wages raised by at least 12.5%.

They argue that this would account for inflation in the three years since an initial agreement was reached on wages, Bloomberg reports.

The groups comprising Cosatu, the country’s biggest labour group, the Federation of Unions of South Africa and the National Council of Trade Unions also requested that farm, domestic and public-sector workers receive higher increases to reduce any possible gaps between their pay and the national minimum wage.

Government has recommended a 5% increase.

Read: How much you should be paying your domestic worker in 2020

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16,000 domestic workers lost their jobs last year – here are the sectors hardest hit by job cuts