The Living Wage Project #3

What is the cost of living in Sweetwaters? How much should someone pay a domestic worker who lives in Sweetwaters? 

images-2 Here are some answers. (To download the detailed report, click here: Living Wage) If you’re interested to know more about what a living wage is, go here. To find out why someone should pay a living wage, go here.)

Where did these numbers come from? A focus group of people from iThemba Projects were interviewed. This group was ideal because all the members currently live in Sweetwaters, and they spend most of the day in Sweetwaters as well, working with children and youth and doing home visits. Some also grew up in Sweetwaters. As such, they have a good grasp of the community as a whole, have been in many, many different homes, (therefore have an idea of how the “average family” lives) as well as have first hand experience themselves.  

What categories are included? For this project, we assumed the person was a domestic worker living with a 15, 10 and 5 year old. The wage includes food, housing, utilities, education for the children, health care, transportation, and a miscellaneous category for things like clothes, toothpaste etc. In these categories, it was assumed that this person was living as frugally as possible, was attending free/local schools and clinics, and taking advantage of free government services wherever possible. We assumed their diet was nutritious, but basic (things like cabbage, pap, and only cheap meat twice a week). This worked out the basic survival wage. Then we added in an amount to go towards breaking the family out of the cycle of poverty, and this number was based on the cost of four UNISA modules per year, and this gave us the living wage. This is not assuming the domestic worker is going to private healthcare, government schools in Hilton, or shopping at Woolworths. (Download the full detailed report to see exactly how the amount for each category was calculated. I think you’ll be surprised to see how conservatively we estimated the amount for these categories). 

What categories are not included? Many things that a middle class family takes for granted, such as the ability to save for retirement, a house, or a rainy day. It does not include money for holidays or non-essential travel. It assumes only 2 days of work missed for sickness, and no vacation days. No maternity leave, costs associated with babies, birthday presents, a tithe, gifts, life insurance, and funeral cover are included.

How was the wage calculated? It was assumed this domestic worker travelled in to work each day (taking only one taxi- many people in this area have to take two), and we assumed 20 work days each month. (i.e.: this is not a “live-in” domestic worker). To download a full report with explanations of where numbers came from, and the complete breakdown of costs in each category, click hereLiving Wage. To download a spreadsheet that will allow you to play with the numbers and see how costs would change by including more categories or omitting some, click hereLiving Wage Estimate Tool. Our results found that:

In order to take home a living wage each month, the employer needs to pay R3606/month or R180/day. 

What if I don’t live in Hilton and my domestic worker does not live in Sweetwaters? How accurate is this number then? Sweetwaters is a semi-rural township outside Pietermaritzburg, therefore the cost of living is lower than someone who lives in a big city like Joburg or Capetown. This is why we’ve included both the full report that shows where we got the numbers from, as well as a downloadable excel tool that will allow you to change/adapt for your context. If you live in a totally different context than the one which we live in, sit down and ask your domestic worker about some of these categories- like, “How much does it cost to take a taxi in this area? How far away is the nearest free government clinic?” etc. — find out the particulars and work out the cost of living in your area.

As I mentioned before, this family in Joburg worked out a living wage for their domestic worker would be, and it is definitely higher than ours. However, we wanted to come up with a figure that was based on the average cost of living in Sweetwaters, and not necessarily specific to each and every particular case (for example we took an average number of children, and an average situation). We did not find out the costs for a person to live in Sweetwaters at a very high standard of living– we found out how the average family  lives– so by paying your domestic worker this amount, you’re not necessarily paying them an amount that will put them buying organic produce from Woolworths like you do. This means there is room for you to go above and beyond this wage– however, we wanted to work out what the bare minimum you should consider paying your domestic worker should be if you want to be paying a living wage.

And if you now have a million questions like: How could I ever afford this? What should I do now?! Stay tuned for a bonus part four! 🙂 

Also, please consider sharing this post with friends and colleagues. So much of what we pay our domestic workers is not based on concrete research but just a gut feeling that we should pay more than minimum wage. It would be fantastic if our community could be known as a place where the people we employ are given a living wage. This is a really practical concrete way we can do something to move our country forward, and help people break out of the cycle of poverty.

If you have any questions or comments- send us feedback! Either comment below on this post, or email the authors at: ann.ebert.oneill(at) or steph.ebert17(at)

The Living Wage Project #2. Why?

Remember those happy world cup feelings? Don't we want those feelings to last? Living wage, people.

Remember those happy world cup feelings? Don’t we want those feelings to last? Living wage, people.

So I kind of gave myself away in the previous post with some of the reasons why as employers we should pay a living wage. But here they are:

1. It lowers the crime rate. Forget all the “be a nice person” reasons. South Africa has one of the highest inequality ratios between the rich and the poor. And research has shown that the higher the inequality in a country, the higher the violent crime, and the worse off the entire country. And it’s not always that poor people are murdering rich people– rather, the inequality creates a system of frustration– people see the extreme wealth of others, and see there is no way for them to break out of their extreme poverty, and this leads to feelings of futility (why should I even work? There’s no way I’ll ever break out of this!) frustration, anger, and jealousy, and this can lead to a higher level of spousal abuse, violence, aggression and crime. So if you want to see crime go down– pay people a living wage.

2. It helps people break out of poverty, which helps the whole economy. We don’t want to be a country of street sweepers and gardeners (not that there is anything wrong with people who do that work– it’s valuable and needed!) But if we want to be a country that leads the way in terms of technology, science, the arts, we need people who are educated–which is one reason why you should pay someone a living wage and not just minimum wage. Further, there’s this basic economic principle that when people have money, they buy more stuff. When people can buy more stuff, more stuff can be produced (creating more jobs).

3. It’s right. Guys, we want to be able to go to bed at night and know that we are not exploiting our workers. Imagine when someone asks you what you pay your domestic worker that you don’t have to drown that shameful feeling by creating a long list of justifications, “I pay them x amount, but we also pay for one of the granddaughter’s school fees”. You can happily share what you pay, with the confidence that it is based on solid research, and your domestic worker is not being exploited.

4. God wants us to pay people justly. Our small group at church read “Generous Justice” by Tim Keller. One of the things this book showed is that all throughout scripture, God commands not only charity, but just wages, and empowerment for the poor as well. So the biblical commands in the Old Testament were not just to give money to the temple for the poor (which is a command, by the way) but also to pay your workers justly, and make sure there was provision for the poor to help themselves. As a concrete example, God told farmers not to harvest to the edges of their fields, but to leave the corners unharvested, so the poor, the widow, the foreigner, and those who had no means of income could come and harvest the extra for themselves. That meant that the farmer could not squeeze maximum profit from his field, and then give some of his income to charity and call it good. It meant that there was a provision for the poor that wasn’t demeaning, or creating dependency (the poor had to actually harvest it!) In today’s society, not many of us are farmers. So what does it look like to put this principle into practice? One way is paying your domestic worker a living wage– even if legally you have a “right” to pay them less, by paying them a living wage, you are giving them the opportunity to provide for themselves and their family and hopefully have a chance at breaking out of poverty. (Jesus and Paul talk about these ideas as well, but this is just one concrete example).

5. Here’s how a South African Christian in Joburg who is now paying a living wage put it:

“I searched through the Scriptures, looking in the concordance for words like wage, labour, work, worker, employer and exploitation. What I discovered was eye opening and left me deeply convicted. Throughout Scripture, the onus for setting wages is the responsibility of the employer and Scripture repeatedly warns against those who exploit workers. One Scripture which stood out to me was Isaiah 58. The context for this text is set in verse 3, which says “you live with your pleasures while you exploit your workers”. The text then goes on to talk about five areas: 1) Food (“feed the hungry”); 2) Shelter (“provide the poor wanderer with shelter”); 3) Clothing (“clothe the naked”); 4) Basic needs (“satisfy the needs of the oppressed”); and 5) Things that will break the cycle of poverty (“untie the cords of the yoke”). As I looked at these five areas, I realised that unless the wages that I paid were providing for all five of these areas, I was exploiting my worker. I realised that I had been setting wages based on norms of what others paid and not on what was right.”

And now… given all of that– what IS a living wage for someone in Sweetwaters? Check out part three.

For part one “What is a living wage?” check out my previous post.