Report on pay and working conditions for domestic work in SA
- The 2020 report: https://bit.ly/3pgc56o
- Click on the above link to visit our blog where you will be able to download the full report
SweepSouth Chief Operating Officer
The third annual SweepSouth Report on Pay and Working Conditions for Domestic Work in South Africa paints a stark picture of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the lives of the women who clean our homes and offices.
This report was compiled from almost 5000 responses, overwhelmingly from women (97%) with an even split between South Africans (48%) and Zimbabweans (49%). The demographics of the respondents showed no notable changes in age and education level since the 2019 SweepSouth study, but there was a greater representation of respondents from the Western Cape (44%, up from 39%) and a decrease in the proportion of respondents from Gauteng (50%, down from 57%).
There has been a significant increase in the cost of living for domestic workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The total average monthly basic expenses increased by 34% to R4 225 per month. The most notable increases were in food (up 52%) and school fees (up 65%). This is likely as a result of a combination of inflation and an increase in the number of sole breadwinners (up 13%). The only costs to decline were data and airtime (down 36%), likely a result of increased governmental attention.
Financial dependency was seen to increase across the workers surveyed. Workers with 5 financial dependents increased to 17% (up from 12% in 2019) and those with 6 or more financial dependents increased to 20% (up from 14% in 2019). This was matched by decreasing financial security, with the number of respondents with a funeral plan, medical aid and making stokvel contributions falling substantially.
Despite an increase in financial responsibility, workers saw their earnings drop from 63% earning more than R2500 before the pandemic hit, to 74% earning less than R2500 after the onset of the pandemic and subsequent lockdown. This was coupled with an increase in ‘underemployment’ with 80% of workers reporting that they worked fewer than 8 hours per day (up from 73% in 2019). This placed severe downward pressure on spending with 85% of respondents forced to reduce spending, with the majority reducing their food budget (75%).
The decrease in income due to the pandemic meant that 69% of workers could not afford to pay their rent, with most reporting that they will have to catch up the payments they have missed (57%). A worsening of the debt crisis was observed as 46% of workers increased their debt during lockdown. Many workers did not have an end in sight for when they could repay their debt (42%). These effects were observed to have a disproportionate impact with non-South Africans feeling a greater pressure to reduce spending and increase their levels of debt.
Governmental support during the pandemic was broadly appreciated by South African respondents, with 75% of respondents claiming some sort of governmental support during the lockdown. Only a small number of foreign workers received governmental support (4%). Some workers were also able to receive support from their clients (35%) but the support from NPOs was limited (8%).
Respondents showed a comprehensive awareness of the precautions to take to avoid COVID-19 infection (99%), the symptoms of infection (93%) and where to get tested (90%). The health impact was varied with only 4% of workers diagnosed with the illness and none facing serious complications. Some 29% reported other knockon effects for their physical health and a deeply concerning 57% reported that the lockdown influenced their mental health. All active workers on the SweepSouth platform were supported through the SweepSouth COVID-19 SweepStar Relief
Respondents state getting back to work (33%) as their greatest need at the moment, followed by rental assistance (30%) and food parcels (24%).
Given the severe and long-lasting impact a nutritional crisis would have on young children during this time, the first key recommendation is that urgent food relief is needed for domestic workers and their families. The other key recommendations include an immediate return of work for domestic workers, rental assistance for workers facing eviction, mental health intervention to assist with the increased social, psychological and psychiatric effects of the lockdown on struggling families, and policy reform targeted at considering greater inclusion of foreign workers in the social welfare system and an expansion of UIF to cover all workers in South Africa.