Domestic worker standing next to bed

This is what your domestic worker needs to earn

Posted  June 5, 2019

Domestic workers cook and clean and keep an eye on our children. How much should we pay for this service? We look at what the law says and how far the minimum wage goes.

Our domestic workers manage our homes. We trust them with our goods, our property and our families. That’s a huge responsibility which isn’t always reflected in what they earn. So what does the law say a domestic worker in South Africa must earn, and is that a living wage?


R15 an hourThe National Minimum Wage Act that came into effect at the beginning of 2019 says domestic workers must earn a minimum wage of R15 an hour. This is a basic wage so you cannot deduct any allowances from it such as accommodation, transport and food. Certain deductions are allowed such as UIF, but they may not be more than 25% of the basic salary.

If a domestic worker works 8 hours a day, 5 days a week for 4 weeks (a month) they must be paid at least R2 400.

Is the minimum wage a living wage?The minimum wage is the minimum you must pay, according to the law.

A living wage is what a person needs to earn so that they can meet basic expenses and live a decent life. This includes food, housing, clothing, children’s education, healthcare costs and amounts to save for emergencies.

Is R2 400 a living wage?While the amount depends on how many people are living in each household and how much the household earns in total, estimates put a living wage in South Africa upwards of R3 000 a month. These calculations are made by working out actual living expenses.

SweepSouth surveys domestic workers annually to find out more about their earnings and working conditions. According to their latest findings, a wage of R3 147 will cover basic living expenses.

Here are some of the living costs your domestic worker will need to meet each month. You can add these up and see how they compare to what you are paying.

1. Food
A family of four could expect to pay R2 818 a month for a balanced food basket according to the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy. This basket contains foods such as eggs, milk, chicken, pilchards, maize meal, tomatoes, cabbage, bananas, dried beans and peanut butter. The Living Wage Series, put together by the Wage Indicator Foundation showing living wage calculations for over 60 countries and puts the cost of food for a family of four between R2 700 and R4 070. SweepSouth found that on average domestic workers spend R1 100 on food.

If your domestic worker is supporting a family of four, as most do according to SweepSouth, their monthly earnings of R2 400 will struggle to buy healthy food for their family, unless there is another earner in the household.

2. Housing and utility costs such as electricity
Living Wage Series puts housing costs for a family of four between R4 700 and R6 350. We looked at some property rental prices and found homes available in Soweto for R3 000 upwards. A single room can rent for under R1 000. Prices vary greatly depending on where your domestic worker lives and the size of home, they live in. Utility expenses such as rates and electricity will also need to be factored in.

SweepSouth found that average rent and electricity costs paid by domestic workers are R1 409.

3. Transport
Transport is not cheap in South Africa. Buses, trains and minibus taxis are likely to be used by your domestic worker. Fares vary depending on distance travelled and how may trips taken, for example a train and a taxi.

According to the Alexandra Taxi Association, trips start from R6 for local travel to R28 for a trip one way trip from Alexandra to Pretoria.

Average costs per trip are around R15, one way. This means for a four-week month R600 is spent on getting to and from work. Bus fares are slightly cheaper at R380 – R450 for a metro bus monthly pass.

Domestic workers spend an average of R455 on transport each month according to SweepSouth.

4. Healthcare
Healthcare in South Africa is free for those earning below a certain amount, but this can vary per facility visited, and to get to a healthcare facility transport costs will be incurred. Plus, if a trip to a clinic and doctor takes a day, as it can, that might be a day when no income is earned.

5. Personal care
Soap, deodorant, sanitary items, headache tablets and such need to be paid for.

6. Education
School fees may be minimal or zero at no fee schools, but additional costs such as uniforms, after school care and activities mean educating children costs money. The Living Wage Series puts these costs at R1 200 – R2 000 a month, although this is on the high side. Living Wage, which is worked out by Openup SA, estimates education costs at R100 – R200 a month. SweepSouth found that annual cost on education is R744.

7. Communication
Cell phones are seen as essential today, so your domestic worker will need to spend some money on data and airtime to keep in touch with you and their family. Prepaid airtime costs from MTN are R2 a minute, so half an hour a month would cost R60.  Add in data costs, and communication costs are likely to be at least R100 a month. Average spend by domestic workers is R115, according to SweepSouth.

8. Saving for an emergency
Have you ever been asked to help an employee when they need emergency funds? We’ve included saving for emergencies as part of a living wage for this reason. A living wage is about being able to live a decent life with dignity and having some savings is part of this. A small amount saved for an emergency each month means that a person may not have to go into debt when they need extra funds.

Putting it all togetherThere may be other costs your domestic worker incurs that you need to take into account, but when you have all the costs add them up and see how they compare to what you are paying.

Living Wage from Openup has a fantastic calculator you can use to see how the wage you pay compares with a living wage.

Downloadable expenses listDownload this spreadsheet and use the estimates above and what you know about your domestic worker’s living circumstances to calculate her monthly expenses. This will give you an idea of a living wage for her and her family.

A final thoughtThe cost of living is high for everyone in the country, and it isn’t always going to be possible to pay our domestic workers as much as we would like to. The minimum wage is a place to start, but it’s a good idea to see how it compares to the living costs your domestic worker incurs.

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