SAMWU not convinced by EPWP “major shake-up” announced by Minister Zikalala

The South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU) notes concern the so called “major shake-up” of the Extended Public Works Programme (EPWP) announced by the Minister of Public Works and infrastructure, Sihle Zikalala at the EPWP Phase 5 Indaba on 11 October 2023. Oblivious to the daily challenges faced by workers employed through EPWP, Community Works Programme (CWP) and related programmes, the Minister has characterised EPWP as government’s flagship job creation programme. The Minister was introducing the launch of phase 5 of the programme which is set to be implemented in next few months. According to the Minister, phase 5 of the programme is set to have almost 5 million participants over 5 years.

SAMWU does not consider EPWP or any related programmes related to it to be job creation programmes, there is nothing flagship about EPWP. Given our daily experiences with EPWP workers who are based in municipalities, we are convinced that the implementation of the programme has not been as envisaged by government’s 2004 Anti-Poverty Strategy. In fact, EPWP has evolved overtime to become a conveyor belt of cheap labour for many of the country’s municipalities. 

Municipalities have, in the main not been filling vacancies, especially those at entry level. Instead, municipalities have been using EPWP workers to deliver services which are supposed to be delivered by municipal workers employed directly and permanently by municipalities. Many EPWP employees work side by side with municipal workers, use the same transport to and from work, perform the same function and duties, yet they rewarded with peanuts for their hard work. In many cases, the appointment of EPWP is politicised and serves as a campaigning tool for politicians.  

Of great concern, EPWP workers do not enjoy any job security, they do not receive any benefits that are ordinarily received by municipal workers, yet they are performing the same functions. Having taken into consideration the plight faced by EPWP workers throughout the country’s municipalities, the Union’s 11th National Congress resolved on a campaign for the permanent and direct employment of all EPWP workers by municipalities. 

For SAMWU, the “shake up” announced by the Minister is nothing but another opportunity for the county’s municipalities to continue exploiting South Africans, in particular the youth who make up a majority of participants in this programme. Given the high and unacceptable levels of unemployment amongst the youth which is over 50%, young people are forced by the economic situation which they find themselves in to participate in this precarious employment. 

Municipalities have a Constitutional obligation to promote Local Economic Development within areas in their jurisdiction. Importantly, municipalities have a role to play in reducing the high levels of poverty, inequality and unemployment in the country. Much of the duties which will be performed by EPWP workers are core functions of municipalities such as road maintenance, cleaning and waste management. 

It, therefore, does not make sense for the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure to outsource core functions of municipalities to programmes that take advantage of the socio-economic vulnerability of South Africans.  Worryingly, EPWP programmes have not in any way prepared participants for the world of work as they are never absorbed into formal employment by municipalities because they have become a reliable source of cheap labour that is available in surplus. 

As SAMWU, we remain opposed to the provision of municipal services through the use of EPWP. We are of the view that all these workers should be permanently and directly employed by municipalities so that they can earn the same salary and benefits available to municipal workers. 

We have as a Union been engaging with municipalities through the South African Local Government Association (SALGA), a representative of the country’s municipalities for the direct and permanent employment of EPWP workers by municipalities. If the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure, in particular Minister Zikalala wants to play a meaning role in liberating South Africans from the historical bondages of poverty, unemployment and inequality, his department should facilitate meaningful engagements with the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), SALGA and trade unions on the permanent employment of EPWP workers. 

Issued by SAMWU Secretariat

Dumisane Magagula

General Secretary

(076 580 4029)

Nkhetheni Muthavhi

Deputy General Secretary 

(082 526 5224)

Papikie Mohale 

National Media Officer 

(073 710 0356)