DIG­I­TAL Start-up com­pany SouthSweep, a lo­cal home-clean­ing ser­vice that is app re­liant, is rev­o­lu­tion­is­ing the mar­ket

CityPress - - Business - DE­WALD VAN RENS­BURG de­wald.vrens­burg@city­press.co.za

An Uber-like app for do­mes­tic work­ers is gain­ing ground in some of South Africa’s ma­jor middle class nodes, herald­ing changes to the coun­try’s largest form of em­ploy­ment. Home-clean­ing com­pany Sweep­South this week an­nounced new fi­nan­cial back­ing of R10 mil­lion from the Vumela Fund and ven­ture cap­i­tal firm New­town Part­ners. Vumela is jointly cap­i­talised by FNB and the state’s Jobs Fund.

Sweep­South is still tiny com­pared with the in­sti­tu­tion of do­mes­tic work, with roughly 1 mil­lion peo­ple work­ing in other peo­ple’s homes, ac­cord­ing to Stats SA’s Labour Force Sur­vey.

Wife-and-hus­band team Aisha Pan­dor and Alen Ribic founded Sweep­South 18 months ago and have “a few hun­dred” ac­tive clean­ers reg­is­tered, with more in the queue for their vet­ting process.

The com­pany, how­ever, rep­re­sents one of the early at­tempts to bring the so-called shar­ing econ­omy into tra­di­tional low-wage ser­vice in­dus­tries.

Pan­dor, who is also CEO of Sweep­South, says the client base amounts to “thou­sands”, mostly con­cen­trated in a few “middle class hot spots”. “There is def­i­nitely a con­cen­tra­tion of the clien­tele,” says Pan­dor.

In Cape Town, Sweep­South sees most of its busi­ness em­a­nat­ing from the af­flu­ent south­ern sub­urbs and the City Bowl. In Jo­han­nes­burg, it is mostly in Sand­ton and Rand­burg.

The work­force is like­wise con­cen­trated in neigh­bour­ing town­ships like Tem­bisa or Alexandra in Jo­han­nes­burg, or Gugulethu, Khayelit­sha and the in­for­mal set­tle­ments of Hout Bay in Cape Town, she says.

Sweep­South’s rate is R38 per hour, of which the worker keeps about R30. This was de­cided on af­ter sur­vey­ing clients and work­ers, and de­riv­ing an av­er­age rate across sev­eral cities. Cities like Bloem­fontein have lower wages than Cape Town or Jo­han­nes­burg.

If some­one works a five-day week, eight hours a day, they would make just over R5 000 in a month. Pan­dor says “most” work­ers us­ing the app work the equiv­a­lent of full time this way.

The cur­rent statu­tory min­i­mum wage for do­mes­tic work in metro ar­eas is R13.39 per hour.

Ac­cord­ing to Pan­dor, 90% of ap­pli­cants do not make it on to the ser­vice. To get in you need two years’ ex­pe­ri­ence clean­ing houses, she says.

An­other hur­dle is the need to be “pre­sentable”, which mostly boils down to speak­ing English. The client base is over­whelm­ingly English speak­ing and the app it­self is in English, she ex­plains.

Af­ter that, ap­pli­cants get in­ter­viewed, screened for crim­i­nal records and put through a “clean­ing test” to gauge their knowl­edge.

While the con­tro­versy around the taxi ser­vice Uber has to do with its dis­plac­ing older taxi com­pa­nies, Sweep­South is in­tro­duc­ing the model into the al­most en­tirely in­for­mal sec­tor of do­mes­tic work.

Do­mes­tic work has been largely im­per­vi­ous to past at­tempts to for­malise it or to or­gan­ise work­ers, but apps like SouthSweep could in time lead to a kind of cen­tral­i­sa­tion.

Like Uber, Sweep­South stren­u­ously avoids the word ‘em­ployee’. Ac­cord­ing to Pan­dor, we “need to change our mind-set about work”. She adds that the an­swer may or may not be a new le­gal def­i­ni­tion for work­ers in sys­tems like Sweep­South.

They lie some­where “be­tween tra­di­tional per­ma­nent work and piece­work with no pro­tec­tion”.

This is the ma­jor chal­lenge Uber faces in its birth­place in Cal­i­for­nia, where a class ac­tion is in the works con­cern­ing whether Uber driv­ers are, in fact, legally em­ploy­ees of the com­pany – based on the fact that the com­pany in ef­fect de­ter­mines con­di­tions of em­ploy­ment.

“We are set­ting the wage rate, so we are an­swer­able for that,” says Pan­dor.

The com­pany has only been fully up and run­ning for a year, and still has to de­vise how it will deal with in­creas­ing the rates over time. “We think dif­fer­ently from a labour bro­ker,” says Pan­dor.

If peo­ple ne­go­ti­ate jobs with clients on the app and then leave SouthSweep, “that’s fan­tas­tic”. “We don’t want to dis­place per­ma­nent work.” The clien­tele con­sists largely of peo­ple who do not al­ready em­ploy do­mes­tic work­ers and re­ally just want the ser­vice on an “ad hoc” ba­sis, says Pan­dor.

The age-old in­sti­tu­tion of do­mes­tic labour has been un­der­go­ing changes. The most glar­ing is the shift in the age pro­file of do­mes­tic work­ers ( see ta­ble).

Be­tween 2009 and 2014, the num­ber of peo­ple younger than 40 do­ing do­mes­tic work has de­clined by 17% – leav­ing more than 60% of peo­ple over the age of 40 do­ing do­mes­tic work. Pan­dor says clean­ers on their books are in their late twen­ties and thir­ties.

You find that about 60% of ap­pli­cants are South African, says Pan­dor.

The work­ers on the app use pub­lic trans­port and each one has to spec­ify an area they can serve. Clients need to pro­vide the chem­i­cals and equip­ment. You also need a ba­sic smart­phone and a bank ac­count as the app works on the same non-cash ba­sis as Uber. Work­ers get paid for their hours at the end of the week.

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