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This is what your domestic worker needs to earn

When you have all the costs, add them up and see how they compare to what you are paying

16 February 2022
5 minute read
domestic worker smiling

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?

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National Minimum Wage Act: R23.19 an hour

The National Minimum Wage Act that came into effect at the beginning of 2019 and is  updated annually says domestic workers must earn a minimum wage of R23.19 an hour from 1 March 2022. 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 eight hours a day, five days a week for four weeks (a month) they must be paid at least R3 710.40. This is a minimum wage, which means it’s the minimum you must pay according to the law.

Is R3 710.40 a living wage?

A living wage is what a person needs to earn so 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 such as funeral cover.

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. According to Living Wage it is just over R6 800 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 137 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 R3 046 a month for a basic nutritious diet according to the January 2022 Household Affordability Index. This basket contains the basics such as chicken, maize meal, dried beans, potatoes and tea.

If your domestic worker is supporting a family of four, as most do, according to SweepSouth, their monthly earnings of R3 710 will make it a struggle to buy healthy food for their family, unless there is another earner in the household.

2. Housing and utility costs such as electricity

Housing costs depend on where you live and what services are provided. We looked at some property rental prices and found homes available in Soweto for R3 000 upwards. A single room can rent for around R1 000.

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 amount to R1 363.

3. Transport

Transport is not cheap in South Africa, and your domestic worker is likely to use buses, trains and minibus taxis. Fares vary depending on distance travelled and how many 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 one-way trip from Alexandra to Pretoria. Average costs per trip are around R12, one way. This means for a four-week month, R480 is spent on getting to and from work.

Bus fares are slightly cheaper, although they depend on how far you travel. R429 will buy you a Joburg metro bus pass for 44 trips in the month, but only in the inner city. If you travel from the inner city to Midrand, a 44-trip bus pass will cost more than R600.

Domestic workers spend an average of R481 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 and household care

Soap, deodorant, sanitary items, headache tablets and such need to be paid for. The Household Affordability index puts this at R748 a month, including household cleaning products.

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 that educating children costs money regardless.

SweepSouth found average annual school fees to be R1 632.

7. Communication

Cell phones are essential, 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 99 cents a minute, so half an hour a month would cost just under R30. Add in data costs, and communication costs are likely to be at least R100 a month. Average spend by domestic workers is R82, 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 together

There 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 has a fantastic calculator you can use to see how the wage you pay compares with a living wage.

Downloadable expenses list

Download 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 thought

The 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.

Original article published on: 2nd March 2020
Updated on: 3rd September 2020
Updated on: 10 February 2021
Updated on: 7th October 2021

Updated on: 16th February 2022

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