The Cleaning Fix: Shining example of giving dignity, decent wages and options to domestic workers – Joshua Cox 

There’s an online platform for unemployed mothers seeking domestic work in Greater Cape Town called The Cleaning Fix that does not take any commission from the cleaners on the platform. The founder, Joshua Cox, told BizNews that cleaners are given 100% of the fees paid for a day or half day’s work. While some gig economy platforms have been accused of being exploitative, The Cleaning Fix is a shining example of how the gig economy can be used to create more equitable jobs for the unemployed. Researchers at Oxford University found that one gig worker in South Africa completed 60 hours of work for $20 or R370. Cox, who also runs Fix Forward, a service company for independent building contractors, says that he puts workers at the centre of everything he does. “If they feel like there’s dignity, they feel that they’re not being exploited,” he said. The company is trying to create change in an industry that Cox says takes advantage of the fact that there are so many unemployed people in the country, by paying them a decent wage and giving them options. – Linda van Tilburg

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Excerpts from the interview

From handouts in Covid lockdown to creating opportunities to stand on their own 

The seed of it was planted in 2020 during the COVID lockdown. I think a lot of organisations and companies really drove a lot of innovation in that period. When we were sitting in the hard lockdown, we couldn’t do the regular work that we do here at FixedForward supporting building contractors or connecting them to customers. So we started thinking about other ways that we could get involved in making a difference. I heard a story about a lady who was seven months pregnant and she was turned away from a food parcel collection point and she hadn’t eaten in four days. This was heartbreaking to hear and really spurred me and my team into action. We ended up launching a campaign called Mothers in Need where we worked with an amazing partner organisation called the Zoe Project to identify refugee mothers, undocumented migrants and asylum seekers who were moms, either pregnant or with very young children, who were not able to access the relief drawn from the state. We raised funding to provide them with R400 grocery vouchers every month for six months and in a matter of weeks, we were able to raise about R0.75 million to support 300 women and their families for six months. Our approach in all of the work that we do is really to empower people and to create opportunities for them to thrive and to stand on their own. So, while this was a great response to a crisis, in the long term we started asking how do we create something a little bit more sustainable, that’s less of a handout and more of an opportunity. That led to the idea of creating the Cleaning Fix, which is in many senses similar to the Fix Forward platform that we’d already been running for a number of years. We were fairly quickly able to build the platform in a matter of months, and we launched about two years ago in 2021. 

Minimising the risk for customers and cleaners

So, we’ve got quite an involved vetting process, you know, which is a fairly lengthy engagement of application forms, interviews, etc. We speak to past clients that they’ve done work at which gives us a really good sense of who they are, their work ethic, their reliability and so on. Then we do criminal record checks as well. We monitor their performance quite closely through customer reviews and so on. If someone is not able to deliver to a very high standard, that threatens our brand reputation, we need to keep the interest of all the other women on the platform in mind. But, it very rarely happens that a woman will make it through our onboarding process and turn out to be the wrong fit. Usually, if they make it all the way through, they deliver great service. Now, obviously incentivised to do that because those reviews go up on their profile, they want to get more customers. Introducing this transparency into how people perform is really great. On the flip side as well is that it introduces an element of safety for the women. Otherwise, if they are standing at traffic lights, just handing out telephone numbers, they don’t know whose home they’re walking into. At least for us, there’s this assurance that customers that have booked via our mobile platform, we’ve got contact details and it that really minimises the risk to them as well, because I think there are risks on both sides. 

Joshua Cox: Founder of The Cleaning Fix

How opportunities are created for vulnerable mothers and their children

One of the women joined, she’s from Zimbabwe. She’s an orphan or was an orphan, growing up, she moved here to South Africa with her family. I think she’s got two young kids and she was unemployed and didn’t have a work permit to be able to go and find formal employment, although she was legally in the country as an asylum seeker. She joined our platform and very quickly started getting bookings. Usually, it’s a day or two after the induction that these women get, their first booking. She very quickly started getting bookings, built up a great name for herself and within a matter of weeks was working three or four regular days a week. This changed a number of things in her life. I think the first thing was that she was able to become economically independent as a woman and as a mother. She was also in an abusive relationship with her partner and she was able to leave her partner because she could not finally financially afford to do so. She filed a restraining order against her abusive partner. She was able to move her kids out of quite an unsafe environment, not just in terms of their family situation, but the community that they were living in. So, she was able to move them into a better place. The kids are now in better schools. They’re getting better quality, more regular meals. What we’ve seen is that when you create opportunities for these women and for mothers in particular, which is why we focus specifically on mothers, is that all these other impacts happen downstream in terms of the education of their children, the nutrition, the wellbeing, the safety, all of those things flow as an impact from the very simple thing of just being able to earn a decent income.

Trying to shift the norms of what it is fair to pay a domestic worker and giving them options 

The reality is that the wages that South Africans are willing to pay are just generally not high enough for the woman to be able to get by on working a five-day week. That is the reality and we also are trying to shift some of that. So we have The fees that we charge are fairly reasonable, R350 for a full day, R250 for a half day, they are decent fees and then we also allow our customers to pay an additional contribution towards transport of up to R50. So, we quite regularly have women working for R400 for a full day and R300 for a half day. and those feel like much more meaningful wages. R300 for four hours of work is over four times the legal minimum wage for domestic workers. We are also trying to shift the norms around what it’s fair to pay someone. If you go to America, if you go to the States, it’s $20, $30 an hour to get a cleaner R400, R500 an hour to get someone to come and clean your home. So, we are trying to shift that in South Africa. This industry very much takes advantage of the fact that there are so many unemployed people who are desperate, and who will work for little or nothing. That’s part of what we’re trying to change, is to give people options. So, when women join our platform and they have regular work available, then it means that they can turn down a full-time job where someone wants to pay R200 a day. They can say, ‘No thanks. I’d rather stick with this because at least I’m going to be earning better wages.” We just want to give people options.”

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