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New report finds domestic workers still earning below minimum wage

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Workers march in the streets of Nakuru town during the Labor Day celebrations. [Bradley Sikolia, Standard]

The 2022 SweepSouth Report on Pay and Working Conditions for Domestic Workers for Kenya and South Africa has been released. This is the fifth year that SweepSouth has released its annual report, each year painting a picture of what domestic workers go through and endure.

This year, the survey was sent to more than 1,000 domestic workers in Kenya and over 25,000 domestic workers in South Africa. As a result, the report continues to be the largest and most detailed survey on the African continent, offering the most comprehensive view to date of domestic workers' living and working conditions.

The survey's findings show that respondents in Kenya reported earnings far below the minimum wage, suggesting resistance to wage laws and a lack of enforcement. According to Luke Kannemeyer, SweepSouth's Chief Operating Officer, this puts a large amount of pressure on domestic workers, 70 percent of whom head up single-parent homes and 83% of whom are the main earners in the family, financially supporting an average of three dependents.

"The past year's massive increases in transport and food costs have made it even harder for domestic workers to make ends meet," says Kannemeyer. "Worryingly, indebtedness also appears to be on the rise, with nearly three out of four of our respondents saying they are in debt, and around 40 percent feeling hopeless about being able to pay that debt back."

The pandemic's continued impact is evident in the 69 percent of Kenyan domestic workers who lost their jobs in the last year. Reasons for this include semigration - where employers move to different cities as people now live and work anywhere - and the fact that employers can simply 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 around the world.

The survey further reveals that Kenyan workers are more likely to face abuse in their workplace than their South African counterparts. While rates of physical abuse were similar in both countries, Kenyan respondents are 62 percent more likely to face verbal abuse and almost four times more likely to face sexual abuse.

Another key finding is that many domestic workers in Kenya spend more than an hour travelling in one direction to get to work. This indicates having to leave home very early or reach home late, which could pose a safety threat. Moreover, 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.

This year's report also highlights that 54 percent of domestic workers knew someone who had passed away because of COVID-19. In addition, a significant majority of respondents from both Kenya and South Africa said they had been tested for COVID-19 at some point, with close to 9 out of 10 receiving their test for free. This points to a relatively successful public health response within both countries.

"We went into this survey knowing that the numbers would paint a grim picture," notes Aisha Pandor, SweepSouth CEO. "These past few years have been trying times and the recent increase in the cost of food, fuel, transport, and more is felt the hardest by those who already have little to spend. This in turn, affects mental health, physical health and so much more. As a platform and company that advocates for the rights of domestic workers, we will continue to lend a voice to this sector of society, educate our clients and assist those who use our platform in new and innovative ways," Pandor concludes.

Key findings at a glance:

 - 69% of domestic workers lost their jobs in the last year, with 31% indicating that their employer could not afford to pay them anymore

 - Domestic workers are spending more on food, rent and electricity

 - The deficit between earnings and basic expenses has grown by close to 30%, compared to last year

 - The number of domestic workers' saving has dropped by 13% over the past year, with 25% of those surveyed stating that they do not have sufficient income to save

 - 73% spend more than an hour travelling in one direction to their place of work

 - 13% work more than 10 hours a day, and 11% work seven days a week

 - 73% are in debt and 39% feel hopeless about being able to pay it back

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