Agency sweeps funds to its domestic workers, but needs more help

There are about one million domestic workers in South Africa according to Stats SA. Many are without an income since the lockdown.
There are about one million domestic workers in South Africa according to Stats SA. Many are without an income since the lockdown.
Image: GROUND UP/ MASIXOLE FENI

An estimated 40% of domestic workers employed through recruitment agency SweepSouth are still getting paid by their employers during lockdown.

This is according to the online recruitment platform which is trying to raise R12m for out-of-pocket helpers.

Aisha Pandor, co-founder and CEO of SweepSouth, which connects domestic workers with employers, has called on South Africans to donate money to support domestic workers and their families during the lockdown.

Pandor has launched a fund to assist up to 4,000 SweepStars, as domestic workers affiliated to her organisation are known, by donating between R150 and R450 to them and their families every week. Pandor, who aims to support the women for three months with the funds raised, said the organisation has already received R6m from the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation and R2,3m from other donors.

“An additional R2,3m is not that bad considering  there are numerous other charities and causes out there. We support between 3,000 and 4,000 women every week and each woman receives between R150 and R450 to buy essential good for their families.”

It is important that we support domestic workers because they are the bedrock of society and the economy at large

While up to 40% of employers were still paying their domestic workers during lockdown, Pandor said a significant number had been left stranded after employers cancelled bookings in the lead-up to lockdown.

“It is important that we support domestic workers because they are the bedrock of society and the economy at large. They play an incredible role in society, but they are always badly paid. We really should appreciate the work they do. They take care of our homes and kids while we are work. They are critical to the economic value chain.”

At least R4m a month will be needed to ensure SweepStars and their families are able to eat and least meet day-to-day living costs during lockdown, she said.

“Like everyone else, domestic workers in South Africa rely on their income to put food on the table. But the cost of basic necessities, such as electricity and other utility expenses, all add up.

“Our research suggests that most domestic workers (more than 70%) are single mothers and that many (more than 80%) are primary breadwinners.

“Our annual survey shows that domestic workers spend, on average, R1,100 on monthly groceries. If these workers aren’t paid during lockdown, they face worsening poverty and mounting debt. We simply cannot allow SweepStars and their children to be left to this fate.”

Fadzai Selipiwe, a domestic worker from Danoon in the Western Cape, said the financial support from the fund was the only thing keeping her and her family afloat during lockdown.

“It is not a lot of money, but it is better than nothing. It is quite tough, but we’re surviving.”

Selipiwe has not worked since lockdown began on March 27.

Unfortunately, we all have to comply with the government’s directive to be on lockdown. As a result, we cant work. I used to work three to four days a week

“It is the only income we have. My husband works at a gym company, but because he was not employed permanently, he is not getting paid during lockdown.”

The 37-year-old, who shares a room with her husband and three children, said: “We would have died of hunger had SweepSouth not come through for us.”

Equally grateful to the fund is 25-year-old Olumide Adeniran from Milnerton, also in the Western Cape.

“We give accolades to them. Through their assistance I am able to buy essential foods, such as rice, and electricity. Unfortunately, we all have to comply with the government’s directive to be on lockdown. As a result, we cant work. I used to work three to four days a week.”

Last week, the South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers’ Union (Sadsawu) made recommendations to the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC), minister of employment and labour Thulas Nxesi and the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) to declare domestic workers UIF contributors so they can access income protection during the state of disaster.

A statement released by the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (Seri) said lockdown has had a devastating impact on domestic workers.

“A mere 20% of domestic workers are registered for UIF. This means the majority of domestic workers cannot access the department of employment and labour’s Covid-19 Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (TERS) because domestic employers did not fulfil their legal obligation to register them. Further, some registered domestic workers report that their applications for TERS have been declined.

“The department has neglected to directly address the one million domestic workers and their employers, leaving this vulnerable sector without clear direction.

“The declaration and inclusion of domestic workers as UIF contributors will bring relief to millions of domestic workers as it will enable them to access TERS," Seri said.


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