Expanded Public Works Programme should not be a substitute for sustainable job creation

Issued by Samantha Graham-Maré MP – DA Shadow Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure
15 Nov 2022 in News

Please find attached soundbite by Samantha Graham-Maré MP.

The attempt by the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI), through its new Expanded Public Works Programme Policy, to reposition temporary public employment programmes as a substitute for the ANC government’s failure to grow the economy and create real jobs is not the answer to South Africa’s unemployment crisis and should be rejected.

In response to a request for public comments on the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) Policy by the DPWI, the DA made a formal submission yesterday in which we called for a forward looking EPWP policy that leverages on the private sector to create value for participants through skills development.

The proposed business case for this new EPWP policy, while rightly anchored on ‘tackling the triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment’, remains inward looking and redistributive in its orientation. Instead of pivoting outside the public sector to create value for EPWP participants, the policy envisages a programme that revolves around an expansive role of the state in job creation, raising the risk of crowding out private enterprise participation in short-term Public Employment Programme (PEP) initiatives.

In order to ensure that public employment programmes, of which the EPWP is one, creates value for participants and increases their rate of transition into the formal economy, the DA proposes that the policy should be anchored on these foundational pillars:

  1. The EPWP should not be a substitute for sustainable job creation – PEPs are at the lower end of the employment policy continuum and as such should ideally facilitate transition into long-term employment in the labour market. While PEPs do play a critical role in providing transitory work opportunities for individuals and communities struggling with unemployment, the new EPWP policy must emphasise the point that unless South Africa embarks on a sustained programme of structural economic reform, that unlocks investment, growth and jobs, it is counter-productive to expect that PEPs will be the answer to chronic long-term unemployment.
  2. Broadening public/private partnerships in EPWP through collaboration incentives with the private sector – Since bankable skills should be at the centre of any PEP rollout, it is recommended that prioritisation should be given to high-value sectors such as the green economy, artisanal industries and early-stage ICT sector startups.
  3. Addressing fragmentation in PEP budget allocation – It is imperative that the draft EPWP policy makes a case for the consolidation of PEP budgets across the public sector system to achieve economies of scale and prevent duplication in PEP implementation, as is currently the case. Currently, the two biggest PEP programmes in South Africa are the EPWP under the DPWI and the Community Works Programme under the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs.
  4. Provision of certification for program participants – Individuals who take part in a PEP should be provided with certification to prove their participation and the quality of training that they received during the course of employment under the EPWP.

The DA agrees with the broad effort to reform the EPWP but we do not support the reform path recommended by the DPWI’s new draft EPWP Policy. In designing the PEPs, it is much more beneficial to innovate outside the public sector by broadening opportunities of participation through the incorporation of the untapped potential of the private sector.