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Domestic workers suffer huge loss of income during lockdown

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A study into the living conditions of domestic workers has found that most of them are facing serious financial pressure as their costs have risen substantially while their income decreased during the national lockdown.

The third annual edition of the SweepSouth Report released yesterday showed that domestic workers’ average monthly basic expenses increased by 34% to R4,225 per month during the lockdown. The most notable increases were in food (52%) and school fees (65%). This is likely as a result of a combination of inflation and that the number of domestic workers who are the breadwinners increased by 13% compared to last year.

There was also an increase in the number of financial dependents.

Workers with five dependents increased from 12% last year to 17% and those with six or more financial dependents increased from 14% to 20%. This was matched by decreasing financial security, with the number of respondents falling behind in payments of funeral plans, medical aid and stokvel contributions.

While they had more mouths to feed, domestic workers saw earnings drop – from 63% of the workers earning more than R2,500 before the pandemic hit, to 74% earning less than R2,500 after the lockdown.

The research also showed a surge in the number of workers working less than eight hours a day from 51% to 80%. This placed immense pressure and caused their spending to drop, with 75% saying they reduced the budget on food.

The report was compiled from almost 5,000 responses nationally. The majority were women (97%), split between South Africans (48%) and Zimbabweans (49%). The survey was conducted for four months during lockdown. This combination of stats strangely says little about Lesotho nationals who have strong numbers in domestic work in SA.

A shocking 69% of the respondents could not afford to pay their rent, with most (57%) reporting that they will have to catch up the payments.

About 46% of workers increased their debt during lockdown and 42% of them did not know when they would be able to pay their creditors.

Only 4% tested positive for Covid-19, with none facing serious complications, but some 29% reported other knock-on effects for their physical health and a worrying 57% said that the lockdown had a negative influence on their mental health.

*Gugu, who works in Johannesburg, spoke to Sowetan.

“I work two days a week for my employer. She pays me R200 a day. When the lockdown came, she cut the number of days to one. She also reduced my salary to R150. But the amount of work was still the same. I had to do two days’ work in just one day. Nothing had changed in her work, she just used the lockdown as an excuse to pay me less. I suffered a lot because of this. I have two children to take care of.”

*Palesa, who works in Durban North, was also under financial strain during the lockdown. Two of her children are back home in Lesotho.

“It has been tough. Two of my children finished school. One was studying to become a social worker and the other studied public relations. However, none of them have been able to get a job. I was hoping that by now they would be working. Now I have to pay for a flat that one of them shares with a friend for R1,700 a month. I still have to send money for those back home. School fees back home have increased for my last born and I’m really struggling to cope,” she told Sowetan.

*Not their real names.

-Sowetan

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