Domestic workers face jobs carnage

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The report on conditions in the industry, paints a grim picture as the Covid-19 pandemic rages and exposes the financial problems it has caused. Photo: Gallo Images/Jacques Stander
The report on conditions in the industry, paints a grim picture as the Covid-19 pandemic rages and exposes the financial problems it has caused. Photo: Gallo Images/Jacques Stander

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More than 100 000 women locally lost their jobs as domestic workers in the first quarter of this year, according to a report released by SweepSouth.

The company is an online home services platform that connects users to vetted and rated domestic workers and gardeners, as well as employees with other skills.

This is according to SweepSouth’s fifth annual report on pay and working conditions for domestic workers, which is said to be the largest ongoing report of its kind in the world.

The first report was released in 2018 – and since then, researchers have tracked conditions faced by domestic workers leading up to the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.

READ: Poppy Mailola | Women bear the harsh brunt of unemployment and poverty

In addition to the jobs bloodbath faced by women in the industry, the company reported that 25 000 men doing similar jobs – such as gardening – had also lost their jobs in the first quarter.

SweepSouth warned that the second-quarter figures were expected to detail a more dire tale.

The report surveyed conditions affecting domestic workers locally and in Kenya.

The report stated:

As emerging economies, Kenya and South Africa have found themselves in a precarious position. The resulting economic fallout has had a devastating effect on the livelihoods of many workers, disproportionately affecting women, black Africans and people in poverty at the base of the economic pyramid.

It added that domestic workers, who were often poorly paid with few social protections, were among the worst affected due to their reliance on the income of their employer and their frequent exploitation.

In its executive summary, the report stated that this year it had generated more than 7 500 responses from both countries, primarily from locals.

STUDY DEMOGRAPHICS

According to the report, the median age of domestic workers targeted was between 30 and 36. The majority of those who responded locally were Zimbabweans (55.54%), South Africans (40.99%) and other nationalities (3.47%). Men made up 6.32% of local respondents.

Those who responded in Kenya were all citizens of that country, with 32.7% of them men.

INFLATION BLOW

When the SweepSouth report was conceived, it was part of an effort to establish the status quo, measuring the impact of civil society, government, the platform and other industry players on improving salaries and working conditions of domestic workers.

“It has been tremendously difficult for us to see some trends stagnate and many reverse. Even some encouraging signs should be taken with a pinch of salt,” the report warned.

READ: Inside Labour | The fight for injured workers goes on



It said that earnings appeared to be increasing for domestic workers, but a large percentage of that money would be eroded by inflation and earnings still fell far short of a sustainable living wage.

The report stated 

The earnings data also only represents those who remain employed. Rampant job losses mean that many domestic workers and their families will be pushed to the brink. The next few years will be a trying time and we will need strong and decisive leadership to weather the storm

Kenya, it added, faced a political transition this year and hope for peace had already been shattered by intensifying violence.

South Africa, too, would face possible unrest ahead of the next general election in 2024.

“We cannot let politicking, corruption and violence undermine efforts to rebuild our economies and the livelihoods of our most vulnerable citizens. This means holding our leaders accountable and using what power we have to drive change within our homes, workplaces and communities,” the report stated.

KEY RECOMMENDATIONS

The report stressed the need to enforce existing legislation. While South Africa and Kenya had minimum wage and other labour legislation protecting domestic workers, this was often not adhered to.

Without better implementation and enforcement, domestic workers will not see much benefit. Work in private homes is difficult to regulate, so we encourage the development of more creative solutions. Governments should work with tech partners to make compliance quick and easy for employers and employees. Once that is complete, governments should look at a set of incentives for compliance, such as tax incentives and easy sign-up stations at locations easily accessible to domestic workers and their employers,” it stated, adding that there was also a need for the expansion and review of legal protections


. Improved access to mental healthcare.

According to the report, researchers had picked up that there was significant burden placed on domestic workers to support themselves and their families at home.

“Our results show how much domestic workers rely on their faith-based communities and spending time with friends and family for mental health support,” it read;

. A need for transport and fuel subsidies. The report said transport costs were among the most significant drivers of inflation in South Africa and Kenya; and

. Increased support for workers facing abuse at home and in their workplaces.

“There are a number of insidious forms of abuse apart from just physical abuse, which many workers face, which they may not even recognise as abuse, but still suffer the consequences. Material support also needs to be provided for survivors of abuse to allow them to adequately escape the situation,” the report stated.

It said that SweepSouth had expanded its approach from working only with individual domestic workers to working with industry players in order to agree on a minimum set of work standards and benefits.

READ: ‘Domestic workers must incur debt to survive’

OTHER RECOMMENDATION INCLUDED

Improved access to mental healthcare. According to the report, researchers had picked up that there was significant burden placed on domestic workers to support themselves and their families at home. 

“Our results show how much domestic workers rely on their faith-based communities and spending time with friends and family for mental health support,” it read.


A need for transport and fuel subsidies. The report said transport costs were among the most significant drivers of inflation in South Africa and Kenya; and Increased support for workers facing abuse at home and in their workplaces.

 “There are a number of insidious forms of abuse apart from just physical abuse, which many workers face, which they may not even recognise as abuse, but still suffer the consequences. Material support also needs to be provided for survivors of abuse to allow them to adequately escape the situation,” the report stated.

It said that SweepSouth had expanded its approach from working only with individual domestic workers to working with industry players in order to agree on a minimum set of work standards and benefits.


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