The informal sector is small production activities that are not registered. Informal employment is the hiring of casual workers without regard to labour laws and rights.
There are an estimated 1 million household workers in South Africa. This represents 20 percent of all African women. The domestic sector is one of the most important employment sectors in South Africa.
Very little research has been conducted on household gardeners. This neglect led us to examine the sector of 12 towns and cities of different sizes in the Eastern Cape province, South Africa’s poorest and largest province.
We wanted to know the number of gardeners who are employed informally, their wage levels, and the economic value of this sector. We found that there are about 1 million gardeners who are used informally and that most of them are paid below minimum wage. However, the sector receives wage transfers ranging from R10 billion to R13.5 billion.
The number of gardeners and their wage levels
We first determined the number and type of gardeners who were employed informally in each town, as well as their wages. We then summed up the data to determine the value of this sector.
In the 12 towns, informal employment of a gardener was done by 58% of households with middle to high incomes. In 11 out of 12 cities, half to just over two-thirds of households with middle-to-high incomes did this. Peddie was the only town where less than 30% of households employed a gardener.
In total, the number of gardeners who were employed informally was 13,200. The average daily cash wage was R112 ($7.50), 7% less than the minimum wage in 2019 for domestic workers ($8 per day or R120) and 30% lower than the R160 ($10 per day) for all other sectors.
In total, 45% paid less than R120 a day. 19% paid R120 a day. 32% spent between R121-R160 a day. And 3% paid over R160. Unexpectedly, the larger centres didn’t pay higher wages.
The majority of gardeners worked for one or two households, usually on two or three days per week. Around 60% of gardeners had only one employer, and no other jobs. The majority (70%) of gardeners valued their current job and felt that it improved their well-being.
The majority of respondents also complained that wages were not enough to cover basic necessities such as food, transportation, and education.
Nearly all of the gardeners (98%) are men, with an average age of 46 and a limited education (5.8 years on average). A third of the gardeners had never held a long-term job before. The average length of employment for a gardener ranged from a few weeks to 26 years.
Most people find a job in gardening by approaching homeowners and offering their services directly (39%), or being recommended to other households by previous or current employers (32%).
Our research revealed that there are approximately 965,000 informal gardeners employed in the country. This is higher than in the agricultural sector (810,000) and mining (384000). It’s also similar to the national transport sector (943000).
If half of the gardeners who are not employed informally work for multiple households, the number would be closer to 724,000. The lower and higher estimates of the number of gardeners translate to a wage transfer between R10.1 billion ($682 million) and R13.5 billion (9111 million) annually. It is clear from this that the gardening industry follows other informal sectors by contributing to local employment at survivalist rates.
Scholars distinguish between two survivalist occupations in the informal sector. Participants in one of these occupations are merely trying to survive, with little skill or opportunity to advance. One is made up by micro-enterprises that have a family or few employees, and the potential to grow.
Most gardeners have a low level of formal education and limited experience outside their sector. They are also middle-aged. This means that they will find it difficult to get a job in the formal sector. Many gardeners will not be able scale up and become independent contractors.
despite low wages, they valued their gardening jobs in the contexts of high unemployment and low formal skill levels. This is an indication of a poverty-trap situation.
It is necessary to implement appropriate policies and regulations in order to move this sector from a purely survivalist approach. To begin with, it would be required to raise awareness among households that employ gardeners of the importance of paying them at or above the minimum wage, as 45% do not currently.