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Red flags over domestic worker wages in South Africa – how much you should be paying

The latest Consumer Price Index (CPI) data published by Stats SA this week shows that domestic worker wages in South Africa are tracking far below headline inflation, indicating that household employees are struggling to keep up with the rising cost of living in the country.

Headline CPI for September 2022 tracked at 7.5%, down marginally from 7.6% in August. Core inflation – excluding food and fuels – was lower at 4.7% for the month.

The basket of goods and services tracked by Stats SA to measure inflation changes from time to time, and September’s basket included domestic worker wages. Domestic worker wages are tracked in March, June, September, and December.

Worryingly, domestic worker wage inflation was only 3.8% year on year. This rate is far below headline CPI and core CPI and shows that wages paid to domestic workers in the country are not keeping up with headline or core inflation.

Wage inflation was tracked at 3.5% in June (versus headline CPI at 7.4%, core inflation at 4.4%) and 2.9% in March (vs headline CPI at 5.9%, core inflation at 3.8%), showing a consistent trend of domestic worker wages falling short of core and headline inflation by 0.9 percentage points and 3.0 to 3.9 percentage points, respectively.

Month Headline inflation Core inflation Domestic worker wages Headline difference Core difference
September 2022 7.5% 4.7% 3.8% -3.7 pp -0.9 pp
June 2022 7.4% 4.4% 3.5% -3.9 pp -0.9 pp
March 2022 5.9% 3.8% 2.9% -3.0 pp -0.9 pp

Domestic workers are already low-earners in South Africa, with salary data from SweepSouth in August showing that the average worker takes home just R2,997 per month.

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Wages for the sector were brought in line with the national minimum wage in 2022.

From 1 March 2022, the National Minimum Wage for each ordinary hour worked increased from R21.69 to R23.19. For domestic workers, the increase in minimum wage was much larger, from a rate of R19.09 per hour – 88% of the national minimum wage in 2021.

Assuming a domestic worker is working 160 hours a month (eight hours a day, 20 days a month), the monthly wage comes to R3,710 for the month.

However, as the SweepSouth survey noted, domestic workers are often mistreated by employers and are tasked with working longer hours – over weekends – and taking on more tasks that are not part of their purview, such as looking after children.

Data from the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity group shows that a basket of nutritional foods for a household of four people came to R3,247.23 in September, leaving very little money left for other essentials like transport, utilities and personal care products.

Jobs under pressure

Statistics South Africa’s latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) survey shows that hiring for domestic workers is still behind the levels of last year, despite an uptick in workers hired.

The QLFS shows that the number of domestic workers in the country increased from 808,000 in Q1 2022 to 858,000 workers in Q2 2022, adding 50,000 people to the sector.

However, while this marks a 6.2% increase quarter-on-quarter, numbers are still down from the same time last year, when 900,000 domestic workers were employed – a year-on-year decline of almost 4%.

While this trend can partly be attributed to seasonal changes, an increase in living costs in 2022 has also likely led to increased retrenchments as domestic workers are seen as a luxury for most.

Read: Government sends warning to households employing domestic workers in South Africa

Artmotion S.Africa

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