Thousands of South Africans have lost their jobs, and more will continue losing their jobs, thanks to Covid -19.
Many were sitting at home, and they were either on annual or unpaid leave. Others were on “no work, no pay.
One such worker was Mpiliso Mpofu, who is a domestic worker and feeling the financial crunch of the pandemic.
Mpofu, who resides in Lusaka in Tshwane, Gauteng, has been a domestic worker for 12 years. The 45-year-old mother of three said that working as a domestic worker was already difficult before the lockdown.
“I used to work for two days during the week, on Tuesdays and Fridays,” she said. “But since the lockdown started, I was completely unable to work. Since we were placed under level 3, I was forced to work as a domestic worker for two employers to make ends meet.”
She was however now waiting for a call from her employees with the good news that she can report for work.
“If I don’t get called, I don’t work. My employers would send me money in order for me to cover costs of basic living, but it would simply not be enough.”
Mpofu said that she did not apply for the social relief distress fund because in her area, nobody who applied for it received it. “I don’t know how we will survive. We truly depend on the mercy of God.”
Research fellow Stephen Devereux has asked that government should come to the party and help out such workers so that they could survive. He said in particular domestic workers would have it tough.
“About one million domestic workers, mostly women, their employers should have paid them in advance for the days they will not be working in the coming weeks. But many employers will not have done the right thing,” Devereux said.
Service sector workers were also among those that have been forced to stay at home.
Best Zambezi, a waiter who lives in Polokwane, Limpopo, has had to weather tough times. The 30-year-old, originally from Zimbabwe, found himself without a job when the restaurant he worked for closed down in July.
“I’ve been working as a waiter since September 2015, supporting a large family back home in Zimbabwe. When I started I was working six days a week, and Monday was my day off. Days were not the same. Some days were so bad that I would make R50 in tips. Some days, by contrast, I would be so busy that I would make around R1000 in tips.”
Zambezi said that he would also make the same amount during busy weekends if he was doing double shifts. “That seems like a lot, but my family is so big that it’s barely enough to get everyone by,” he said.
The restaurant was forced to shut down as the business dwindled.
“When lockdown started business was already bad for us. The lockdown contributed to the business closing, but before then they were already a few months behind in rent. We were informed three weeks ago that the restaurant is closing. I’ve been trying to make ends meet by sowing masks, but that is not going well either because I don’t sow a lot of masks.”
The social relief fund route didn’t help him either. “As a foreign national, I could not apply for the social relief distress fund, so our employer promised to apply for UIF for us, but this was not done,” he said.
The solution that Devereux offers is that all employers must be obliged to continue employing workers on full pay during lockdown.
“Employers must not be allowed to fire workers or let workers sit at home on unpaid leave,” he said.
Of all groups affected, Devereux believed children and low-paid workers remained at high risk of hardship. About 12 million children receive Child Support grants from the South African Social Services Agency monthly, and even this was not enough for their nutritional needs.
Devereux recommended that the Department of Social Development should authorise double and not a few hundreds as was the case for recipients. This would boost families who had no other source of cash to meet basic needs. The National School Nutrition Programme should continue to provide nutritious daily meals to poor children and their families throughout the country.