Domestic disturbance: plight of workers in SA homes worsening
An annual report raises concerns that employers are not sticking to the law
Eight out of every 10 are sole breadwinners. Five of 10 are single mothers caring for, on average, four people. Sixteen percent have experienced physical or verbal abuse at work. And on top of this, nearly half are earning lower than the prescribed minimum wage.
This is the reality for the country’s domestic workers, overwhelmingly women who cook and clean and care for hundreds of thousands of households.
According to a study released on Sunday, the economic and social plight of the domestic worker seems to be worsening. And this despite the recent implementation of the Minimum Wage Bill.
The annual SweepSouth Report on Pay and Working Conditions for Domestic Work is a comprehensive survey of domestic workers across the country, providing some insight into their working conditions.
SweepSouth is a domestic services company that works to ensure domestic workers are employed with all legal requirements met.
According to Mvelase Peppetta, the account director for Irvine Partners, the public relations firm that represents SweepSouth, the report “sheds light on a wide array of issues, from how much domestic workers really earn, save, and what their expenses are, to whether they feel valued at work or, alternatively, feel empowered to report abusive employers”.
The report paints a stark picture for domestic workers. The findings were made after conducting interviews with more than 1,300 people.
What was most concerning was the rise in the more negative aspects in 2019.
According to SweepSouth, the 2018 report found that 84% of domestic workers were the sole breadwinners in their households and 70% were single mothers supporting, on average, three dependents. In 2019 there are changes to these figures. Now, 80% report being the main breadwinner, with almost 50% on average now supporting four people.
“A concerning change is an increase in the number of domestic workers reporting having experienced physical or verbal abuse at work. While in 2018 13% said they had experienced abuse, in 2019 16% of polled domestic workers say they have,” the release read.
Last year’s report found that the average income of domestic workers polled was between R3,000 and R4,000 per month, and the 2019 report reflects similar findings. About 22% of the polled workers were still earning less than R3,000 per month, 21% less than R2,000 per month and a following 20% earning the original average.
However, this meant a seemingly positive change: that most reported earnings would suggest that most domestic workers seem to be earning the legislated minimum wage.
As of the beginning of 2019, the minimum wage legislation came into effect, stipulating that the bare minimum hourly rate should be R20, or R3,500 per month, depending on the number of hours worked.
However, a new section in the survey shows that other legislated requirements regarding the employment of domestic helpers are not being adhered to.
“Despite it being a legal requirement, most respondents say they are not registered for UIF (62% of respondents) or do not know if they are (27% of respondents). Again in contravention of legislation, the majority of respondents say they do not receive a payslip every month (61% of respondents) and a relatively small number report that they receive paid leave (85% of respondents),” the release read.
“2019 again sees most domestic workers reporting that they are earning above the minimum wage. However, the report also shows us that domestic workers are likely to be primary breadwinners and support up to four people. Their expenses are also in surplus of minimum wage, supporting our view that while a minimum wage is being achieved, a living wage is not, and it is imperative that employers, government and civil society are aware of this,” said Aisha Pandor, chief executive of SweepSouth.
The CEO said that while it is good news that most employers are following the minimum wage requirements, it is problematic that other legal requirements are being flouted.“Much of this comes down to a lack of education. It is essential that employers learn and understand their legal obligations to the domestic workers they employ. These requirements are in place to empower domestic workers to know their rights and to receive what is due to them,” she said.