South Africa

South Africa’s domestic workers in crisis 

Domestic workers in South Africa face an exceptionally challenging environment as they are up against the country’s brain drain, high inflation, and government inefficiency.

This was revealed in the sixth annual SweepSouth Domestic Worker Pay and Work Conditions report released on 31 June 2023.

This year’s report received 5,500 responses from domestic workers across South Africa. The majority were women (94%), sole breadwinners (84%), single caregivers (64%), and supported an average of four dependents. 

2023’s survey showed that the burdens domestic workers face have been exacerbated by devastating job losses over the past year, with 28% of respondents having lost their domestic worker job (2022: 25%). 

Around 1 in 4 respondents lost their job due to affordability, similar to 2022. 

However, employers moving home increased considerably, growing from 25% in 2022 to 40% in 2023, with the majority (59%) moving overseas. 

SweepSouth managing director Luke Kannemeyer told 702’s The Money Show that the post-Covid-19 recovery many hoped for in the sector “will not happen”.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of domestic workers in South Africa peaked at 1.2 million. This year, that number fell to around 800,000.

He said the number of jobs lost due to immigration, which he estimated was 20,000, was particularly concerning.

“That has systemic effects across the economy – across tax collection – which then has the compounded effect on low-income earners and domestic workers,” he said.

More worryingly, only 14% of domestic workers who lost their job were registered for UIF.

Kannemeyer said this is an employer’s responsibility, but the system’s inefficiencies hold many from registering domestic workers for UIF.

He explained that the legislation to protect workers exists, but little is being done to promote access to this protection.

“Why can I open a bank account with a selfie, but when I go to a UIF filing website, I’ll be lucky if it loads today?” he said.

“That really needs a shake-up, and we really need to bring this fourth industrial revolution to the fore so that these things are easier.”

In addition, while total household earnings are recovering post-Covid, Kannemeyer said a new concerning trend of underemployment is negatively impacting domestic workers’ take-home pay.

Some domestic workers are now being employed for fewer days a week, and their monthly earnings are, therefore, not keeping up with inflation.

Kannemeyer said one of the biggest variable cost items within the basket that have increased over the last year is food, which has gone up by 12%. 

“And that’s where workers are forced to compromise, and we get particularly worried that nutritional deficits that have become a big issue in society,” he said.

“And that’s not something you get over. Once the economy recovers, those affected by nutritional deficits will be affected for many, many years to come.”


Top JSE indices