Domestic workers in South Africa are still being severely underpaid – despite being brought up to 100% of the national minimum wage in 2022.
This is a key finding in the 2022 SouthSweep report on pay and working conditions for domestic workers, as reported by News24.
The report shows that the median earnings for domestic workers in South Africa is R2,929 per month for women and R2,797 for men. Childcare workers came in with the highest average at R2,997 per month on average with a median of five days worked.
These figures are still well below the national minimum wage set for domestic workers in the country.
From 1 March 2022, the National Minimum Wage for each ordinary hour worked increased from R21.69 to R23.19. For domestic workers, the increase in minimum wage was much larger, from a rate of R19.09 per hour – 88% of the national minimum wage in 2021.
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. Minimum wages are expected to be increased again in 2023.
The SweepSouth report noted that some domestic workers worked 10 hours a day, seven days a week – and while the number is relatively small, it is increasing. While earnings are above those seen during the Covid pandemic, they still lag the national minimum wage.
Worryingly, more than 100,000 domestic workers have lost their jobs since the last report.
This reflects data published by Stats SA, which also showed a decline in the number of domestic workers in employment.
Over the last two years, the sector has come under immense pressure, which has continued into 2022. Statistics South Africa’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) for Q1 2022 showed that hiring for domestic workers dropped significantly.
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, or a loss of 141,000 jobs.
While this trend can partly be attributed to seasonal changes, the increased cost of living at the start of 2022 has also likely led to increased retrenchment as domestic workers are seen as a luxury for most.
The latest data from the Old Mutual Savings and Investment Monitor survey (OMSIM) shows that more South African households are choosing to do without a domestic worker to save money each month.
Around 30% of households interviewed by Old Mutual for the study indicated that they would cut down on and move away from domestic help around the home.
Historically, Old Mutual’s OMSIM has shown that domestic workers are often one of the first monthly household expenses to get cut when tough financial times hit.
SweepSouth previously reported that an estimated 20% of domestic workers lost their job due to the pandemic.
The government has made moves to formalise the sector and protect workers, including introducing regulations that allow domestic workers to qualify for benefits under the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act.