Car washers at some shopping malls pay a fee to work

Companies say this covers the cost of high rents, cleaning products and training

By Tariro Washinyira

19 October 2022

Car washers pay for a spot in some shopping malls. Photo: Tariro Washinyira

Immigrants working for car wash companies in the parking areas at the V&A Waterfront and Sea Point in Cape Town say they are battling to make ends meet as many of them are required to pay a fee to work. Many of the workers we spoke to are Zimbabwean and Malawian.

However, the company we spoke to says that the fee is reasonable, as it covers rent to the shopping malls, cleaning products and laundry.

GroundUp visited sites of three companies and spoke to workers. We sent questions to all three companies but only one, StopWash, responded.

At StopWash, which has sites at the Waterfront and Sea Point, car washers pay for their spots. Mondays to Wednesdays they pay R120 for a spot to work, and R140 on Thursdays. The charge increases over weekends and they pay R160 on Fridays, R200 on Saturdays, and R160 on Sundays. The company provides the cleaning products.

The car washers charge R90 for cars and R95 for larger vehicles. But the company deducts R25 from each car wash.

“We are about 50 car washers. When we wash we ensure the car is spotless so that there are no complaints and we get tips. Some clients tip between R10 and R50. When it’s busy, we clean about ten cars a day.”

CEO and founder of StopWash, Mark Kruger, told GroundUp he ran over 20 sites, four in Cape Town, and StopWash was “South Africa’s largest car wash”. Kruger said the company had created 4,000 jobs. “I have a backlog of 70 women looking for work after losing work during Covid.” StopWash has an office at the Waterfront.

Kruger said the Cape Town manager has been with the company for 18 years, having started as a washer. “We have proper training for all our washers.”

He said the company paid rent to the shopping centres of between R20,000 and R25,000 a month, and also bought the cleaning products which cost R15 per car. The company also paid managers and a trainer, and cleaned the washers’ uniforms.

“The money they pay is used to run the company,” he said.

According to Kruger, washers can earn between R4,500 and R11,000 a month in Cape Town.

A worker at the Waterfront branch said that over month-end weekends, they make about R1,000 from washes and tips. But the commute into the city centre every day is costly, he said, and workers can barely afford rent and groceries.

“Most of the time I work for transport money and the daily fee so that I don’t lose my spot,” he said. I can’t send money to my children back home.

“Paying these charges is painful because you may leave with nothing.” He said sometimes he can’t afford the fee for his spot even though he wants to work.

A washer who had worked for StopWash for nearly four years said she joined another company earlier this year where she no longer has to pay for a spot to work. This company deducts R25 per car from their payments. Washes cost R90 for small cars and R95 for larger vehicles. The company provides the cleaning products.

At the third company, which has an office in Sea Point, washers pay R180 per day to secure a spot. They say the payment is due whether or not they make money washing a car that day. The company does not make any deductions from what washers earn per car wash. The washers charge R75 to R85 per car depending on the size of the vehicle. They say cleaning products are supplied.

A former supervisor told GroundUp, “We make money on Thursdays and Fridays at the end of a month.” But the worker said that working weekends “is a waste of time”.

“We keep coming back here because there’s nothing else. It is a very difficult job. We run up and down this big car park following motorists and most of the time they say no,” the worker said.