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As middle class incomes are put under pressure, domestic cleaning is one of the first expenses to get cut. Picture: DOLGACHOV/123RF.COM
As middle class incomes are put under pressure, domestic cleaning is one of the first expenses to get cut. Picture: DOLGACHOV/123RF.COM

About one in four domestic workers in SA lost their job in the past year, according to a SweepSouth survey.

This as the financial pressure on domestic workers is hefty, with almost 60% being breadwinners supporting four or more people.

Job losses were dominated by two causes: employers no longer being able to afford the services of their domestic worker, and the employer moving home, either to other cities or overseas.

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

“The economic recovery after the catastrophic impact of the pandemic has been further hampered by the war in Ukraine and escalating oil prices. This will place further pressure on household incomes and accelerate job losses due to the inability of employers to continue paying their domestic workers.”

Only about half the respondents said they received compensation on losing their job.

Highlighting the effect of the soaring petrol prices on households — and the potential health burden — SweepSouth said: “We see that as middle-class incomes are put under pressure, domestic cleaning is one of the first expenses to get cut. Urgent relief is needed to stem the tide of job losses and to reduce the compromises workers are having to make on items such as basic nutrition. 

“The cost of fuel and the impact this has on pushing up the price of goods is creating an untenable situation where the middle class [is] barely able to keep up with expenses and the working class [is] having to pull back spending on vital items needed for the health and welfare of themselves and their family.”

The agency called for an urgent revision of petrol prices with an aim to bring down costs through measures such as a reduction in levies and a deregulation of pricing. It also proposed the introduction of progressive subsidies to reduce the burden of transport costs on the working class.

The 2021 survey also shone a light on the abuse workers face at home.

About one in 20 respondents reported they are experiencing domestic abuse. Of these, among men and women, verbal abuse was reported most commonly (men at 58%, women at 75%); 55% of women respondents reported experiencing physical abuse and about 25% reported experiencing sexual abuse.

SweepSouth’s recommendations include improving enforcement of minimum wages and the government working with tech partners to make compliance with labour legislation quick and easy for employers and employees. Regulations should be expanded to cover domestic workers who work on an occasional basis for many different employers.

Material support for survivors of domestic abuse to allow them to adequately escape the situation was also mooted. With the data showing the number of people the average worker is expected to support, “they are unlikely to ever be able to escape the cycle of abuse without robust means of providing safety and support”.


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