Unemployment is probably the greatest challenge facing South Africa today. It was necessary to undertake a number of initiatives to address unemployment and poverty.
One initiative that has been going for almost 20 years is the labour intensive Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP). The programme is funded by the government to create a public benefit.
A list of these programmes is available from the Department of Public Works. The whole idea is to take unemployed, unskilled individuals who are unable to find alternative employment and to give them a minimal salary (more like a stipend) and to try and impart some training and skills.
It must be noted that the EPWP pays employees less than the national minimum wage and it is certainly not a sustainable wage.
The EPWP is subject to a Code of Good Practice which outlines how the programme has to work. This Code of Good Practice is published in the Government Gazette.
The Gazette provides guidelines for the protection of the workers, taking into account the need for the workers to have basic rights.
The code does encourage the use of locally based labour and is trying to focus on women, female-headed households, youth, the disabled and households coping with HIV/Aids.
The essence of the programme is to empower individuals and communities through the provision of training.
The individuals have the protection of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, the Labour Relations Act, Employment Equity Act, Occupational Health and Safety Act, Unemployment Insurance Act and the Skills Development Act.
The EPWP recipients are in fact employees and the code must be read with the Ministerial Determination for Expanded Public works.
Individuals get paid the fixed rate in return for a fixed quantum of work. The beneficiaries of the programmes should be locally based (as close to the project site as possible).
It is also necessary to try and employ only one person per household, but it might be necessary to bring workers in from other areas if the skills are needed.
The government has proposed 55% women, 40% youth (ages 16 to 35 years old) and 2% people with disabilities. Persons under 16 years of age may not be employed on the programme.
Local communities through as many structures as possible are consulted about the establishment of the programme in their area.
People are chosen when the head of the household has less than a primary school education and the household earns less than one full time person earning a minimum wage.
No one is forced on to the programme and no one of the employers may demand sexual or any other kinds of favours for work.
The Ministerial Determination will outline the minimum rate and the workers are paid on the basis of the amount of time worked. They are referred to as “time-rated workers”.
Workers are also paid a training allowance in cases where they are required to attend training programmes. This allowance must be equal to a 100% of the daily task rates. Over and above this, all costs of training such as travel, training, material and tuition fees will be covered.
Certain workers may participate in learnerships and learners are given written particulars of employment and verbal explanation in their appropriate language.
Normal hours of work are applicable and normally limited to 40 hours a week. Workers work five eight-hour days per week excluding time spent travelling to and from work.
If a worker is absent due to illness or injury, they are paid a maximum of one day sick leave for every full month worked and if the worker reports for work and is unable to work due to the fault of the employer, then they should be paid the normal daily allowance.
Workers have the right to work in a working environment that is safe and without risk to their health.
The programme has in certain instances been successful and in many cases has led to workers gaining skills and obtaining decent work.
The whole idea is to get people back into the workforce and hopefully work-ready for formal employment in the private sector.
This concept was successful many years ago in the US under President Franklin D Roosevelt, where he put together a programme called “The New Deal”.
I strongly believe that the training component is the biggest benefit to the recipients.
Workers do obtain skills and invariably can use those skills to embark upon a career path in the future. Unfortunately, some workers step out of line and the Code of Good Practice for EPWP does have a disciplinary code and a grievance procedure.
For those employees who are unable to obtain any employment whatsoever, EPWP has at least been able to restore some dignity and put some bread on the table.
* Michael Bagraim.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
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