Here’s how many domestic workers there are in South Africa right now

 ·23 Aug 2022

Statistics South Africa’s latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) survey shows that hiring for domestic workers is still behind the levels of last year, despite an uptick in workers hired.

The QLFS shows that the number of domestic workers in the country increased from 808,000 in Q1 2022 to 858,000 workers in Q2 2022, adding 50,000 people to the sector.

However, while this marks a 6.2% increase quarter-on-quarter, numbers are still down from the same time last year, when 900,000 domestic workers were employed – a year-on-year decline of almost 4%.

While this trend can partly be attributed to seasonal changes, an increase in living costs in 2022 has also likely led to increased retrenchments as domestic workers are seen as a luxury for most.

Before Covid-19 and lockdown, South Africans employed around a million domestic workers. The pandemic, however, played its part in 250,000 workers losing their jobs.

While the sector has shown some recovery – achieving close to the one million mark in the fourth quarter of 2021 – the economic realities in the country have not been supportive of keeping workers employed in the sector.

Looking at pre-Covid figures, around 140,000 domestic workers have still not re-entered the sector.

Domestic workers in South Africa (thousands) 19Q1 to 22Q2

Domestic worker jobs are also being affected by other factors – including employers leaving the country. Recent data published by SweepSouth showed the devastating impact of emigration and semigration on domestic workers.

A quarter of the respondents said they had lost their job in the last year, drawing a line under data from various sources saying the same thing, like the Old Mutual Savings and Investment Monitor survey (OMSIM).

SweepSouth estimates that around 100,000 female domestic workers and 25,000 male domestic workers have lost their job since its last report. This aligns with Stats SA’s numbers.

“Job losses were dominated by two causes: employers no longer being able to afford the services of their domestic worker and their employer moving home,” SweepSouth said.

More than a quarter (28%) of domestic workers said they lost their job because their employer had moved: 33% of the employers moved to a different town or city in South Africa, while nearly half (48%)moved to another country.

“These trends have been compounded by the accelerating emigration of skilled professionals as well as the semigration trends seen during the Covid-19 pandemic,” SweepSouth said.

The second biggest factor in domestic workers losing their jobs was an employer nolonger being able to afford the salary, SweepSouth said.

Old Mutual’s 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.

Almost a third 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.

Domestic worker earnings

SweepSouth’s report shows that the median earnings for domestic workers 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 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 biggest sample of domestic workers in SweepSouth’s survey said they worked a full day – between 8 and 9 hours a day, five days a week.

Read: More households dropping domestic workers

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