To address this investment in social infrastructure, the government has decided that we should launch an expanded public works programme. This will ensure that we draw significant numbers of the unemployed into productive work, and that these workers gain skills while they work, and thus take an important step to get out of the pool of those who are marginalised.
President Thabo Mbeki. State of the Nation Address in February 2003.
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The legacy of the past has resulted in a large proportion of our population not yet having the skills or opportunities to effectively participate in South Africa’s economy and earn a living. The EPWP is one of government’s initiatives to bridge the gap between the growing economy and the large numbers of unskilled and unemployed people who have yet to fully enjoy the benefits of economic development.
The EPWP involves creating temporary work opportunities for the unemployed, using public sector expenditure. It builds on existing best-practice government infrastructure and social programmes either by deepening their labour absorption or extending them.
Given that most of the unemployed are unskilled, the emphasis is on relatively unskilled work opportunities. All of the work opportunities generated by the EPWP are therefore combined with training, education or skills development, with the aim of increasing the ability of people to earn an income once they leave the programme. Together with the SETA’s, the Department of Labour (DOL) coordinates the training and skills development aspects of the programme.
The EPWP is one of several government strategies aimed at addressing unemployment. The fundamental strategies are to increase economic growth so that the number of net new jobs being created starts to exceed the number of new entrants into the labour market, and to improve the education system such that the workforce is able to take up the largely skilled work opportunities which economic growth will generate. In the meantime, there is a need to put short to medium-term strategies in place, such as the EPWP.
The EPWP is one of the initiatives agreed to at the Growth and Development Summit (GDS) in June 2003 and is a GDS programme.
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The programme has a target of providing employment opportunities and training to at least one million targeted unemployed people in its first five years. Work opportunities will be created in the following ways:
Increasing the labour intensity of government-funded infrastructure projects.
The infrastructure sector incorporates a large-scale initiative to use labour-intensive methods to upgrade rural and municipal roads, municipal pipelines, and storm-water drains. People living in the vicinity of these infrastructure projects are employed by contractors to carry out the work. In addition, 500 emerging contractors will participate in Construction Education and Training Authority (CETA)-registered learnerships to gain the necessary skills to build this infrastructure labour-intensively. The Department of Public Works also arranges for access to finance for these learner contractors.
Labour-intensive construction methods involve the use of an appropriate mix of labour and machines, with a preference for labour where technically and economically feasible, without compromising the quality of the product. International and local experience has shown that, with well-trained supervisory staff and an appropriate employment framework, labour-intensive methods can be used successfully for certain types of infrastructure projects. Labour-intensive infrastructure projects under the EPWP involve:
Creating work opportunities in public environmental programmes (e.g. Working for Water).
The environmental sector’s contribution to the EPWP involves employing people to work on projects to improve their local environments, under programmes such as the Department of Agriculture’s Land Care programme; the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism’s People and Parks, Coastal Care, Sustainable Land-based Livelihoods, Cleaning up SA, and Growing a Tourism Economy programmes; and the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry’s Working for Water, Working for Wetlands, and Working on Fire programmes. A target of 200 000 employment opportunities over the next five years has been set for this sector.
Creating work opportunities in public social programmes (e.g. community-based health and social welfare care and early childhood development).
The social sector contributes to the EPWP by employing people, through NGOs and CBOs, to work on home-based care and early childhood development programmes. These programmes will be coordinated by the Departments of Social Development, Health and Education.
Developing small businesses and cooperatives, including utilising general government expenditure on goods and services to provide the work experience component of small enterprise learnership / incubation programmes.
The social and economic sectors will be formulating targets shortly.
The conditions of employment of workers on EPWP projects are governed by the Code of Good Practice for Special Public Works Programmes. This Code was gazetted by the Department of Labour after discussions at NEDLAC, learnership employment conditions or special short-term contracts.
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The EPWP is a programme that cuts across all departments and spheres of government. Under the EPWP, all government bodies and parastatals are required to make a systematic effort to target the unskilled unemployed. They must formulate plans for utilising their budgets so as to draw significant numbers of the unemployed into productive work in such a way that workers gain skills while they work, so increasing their chances of getting out of the marginalised pool of unemployed people.
The Department of Public Works is responsible for leading the programme. The Department of Public Works also formulates and coordinates EPWP programmes in the infrastructure sector, building on existing initiatives such as the Zibambele road maintenance programme in KwaZuluNatal, the Gundo Lashu road construction programme in Limpopo, the Zivuseni building maintenance programme in Gauteng, and the labour-intensive construction of water pipelines under the Department of Water Affairs’ Community Water Supply and Sanitation programme. The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism is responsible for coordinating the implementation of the EPWP in the environment sector, through programmes such as the Working for Water programmes, the Land Care programme, the Coastal Care programme, and the Waste Management programme. The Department of Trade and Industry is responsible for coordinating the EPWP in the economic sector, including programmes such as incubator programmes for small businesses, which obtain work from government and community-based income-generating projects.
In the Social Cluster, the Department of Social Development is responsible for formulating and coordinating EPWP programmes in the areas of social and personal services (such as home-based care for people living with HIV/AIDS and early childhood development), and food and nutrition.
The national sector coordinating departments are required to provide regular reports to Cabinet regarding progress made in implementing the EPWP in each sector.
As the main delivery arms of government, provinces and municipalities are the primary project implementing bodies for the EPWP. They are supported by the national government departments responsible for sectoral coordination.
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