The 2022 SweepSouth Report on Pay and Working Conditions for Domestic Workers in Kenya and South Africa was recently released. This is the fifth year that SweepSouth has released this report, and each year it paints a picture of what domestic workers go through and endure in these respective countries.
Below are 10 struggles that domestic workers face and have been facing in recent times that will bring to the attention areas that you can improve on with your domestic worker to give her an easier time while working.
1. Earning below the minimum wage
The report’s findings show that many domestic workers still earn well below the minimum wage. Respondents to the survey in Kenya have reported earnings far below the minimum wage, at about KSH 8,841 per month. This suggests some sort of resistance to wage laws and a lack of enforcement. At the same time, most employers cannot reach the minimum wage threshold because of the high cost of living and end up negotiating the pay with their domestic workers.
2. Increased earnings being absorbed by the rising cost of living
The rising cost of living in Kenya and worldwide has also affected domestic workers tremendously. Keep in mind that a majority are not paid the minimum wage. The report shows that much of their pay is for food, rent, and electricity. This has pushed the workers to finance the deficit in their budgets with debt, further jeopardising their financial stability.
3. Longer work weeks
It is worrying to see that, compared to last year’s report, there has been an increase in the number of domestic workers working seven days a week, up to 10 hours each day—likely a result of trying to ease their economic pressures. This, combined with the daily pressures of living, could impact mental and physical well-being.
4. Mental health struggles
Regarding mental health, this year’s report shows that 1 in 5 domestic workers had their mental health negatively affected in the last year, a near-identical number to the 2021 report. The largest aggravator was unemployment, and the largest source of comfort was through church attendance or spending time with their religious community. The ability to access support through religious communities, family, and friends will have been heavily impacted by lockdown regulations.
5. Long commute to work
The report reveals that 73% of the respondents from Kenya indicated that they travel more than one hour in one direction to their place of work. This indicates having to leave home very early or reaching home late, which could pose a safety threat. In the long run, the exhaustion from these commutes may harm their mental and physical well-being, with the former continuing to be a concern in addition to the worries about the current high cost of living.
6. Abuse at home and in the workplace
Kenyan domestic workers are 62% more likely to face verbal abuse and almost four times more likely to face sexual abuse. At the same time, their South African counterparts face less abuse at work. Additionally, foreign workers in South Africa face more abuse than locals. Female workers face a higher risk of this.
7. High job loss this past year
The impact of the pandemic on domestic workers can still be seen, as many lost their jobs due to employers’ moving to different cities due to people being able to live and work from almost anywhere. Semigration is just one of the reasons why 69% of Kenyan domestic workers and 25% of South African workers lost their jobs in the last year. Another key reason is simply that employers can no longer afford domestic workers—a result of COVID-19, the knock-on effects of the war in Ukraine, and the pressures felt by escalating food prices worldwide.
8. The biggest breadwinner in the family
Kenyan respondents have the smallest average household size and, from the survey, they are much younger than their South African counterparts. Domestic workers in Kenya have the fewest number of children of their own. However, they are responsible for financially supporting almost double the number of dependents. While Kenya has a larger proportion of single parents compared to South Africa, it has a similar proportion of domestic workers acting as the main breadwinner in their households.
9. Little ability to save money
Only one in four domestic workers reported having savings or a pension in Kenya. This is down 13% since last year’s survey. A number of domestic workers said that they do not have sufficient income to save and don’t make enough money. This is very concerning given the limited social security options available in the country.
10. High debt levels
The survey also reveals that debt levels are still concerning among domestic workers in both Kenya and South Africa. Nearly 3 out of 4 respondents report being in debt, with around 40% feeling like their situation is hopeless. This will have dire consequences for the respondents and their families, as well as the economy at large, if not urgently addressed.
You can read the full SweepSouth Report on Pay and Working Conditions for Domestic Workers for South Africa and Kenya here.