The Role of Expanded Public Works Programmes in Halving Unemployment

by ALTMAN, M. & HEMSON, D., 2008
Research Report, Employment Growth & Development Initiative, Human Sciences Research Council

Altman and Hemson explore the potential contribution of the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) to meeting the objective of halving unemployment by 2014. The first part of the paper assesses the employment and incomes generated by the EPWP. In 2006/07, approximately 300,000 people were engaged in an EPWP opportunity. Although still a small programme, it represented a large increase over that delivered in the prior years. However, the EPWP had not resulted in substantially more expenditure on wages, as the length of work opportunities offered was shortened. For example, the average length of an infrastructure opportunity was 51 days in 2006/07. In addition, daily wages in the social sector programmes fell to about R30 per day by 2006/07.The second part of the paper assesses challenges to scaling up the EPWP, including questions of wages, cost and institutional arrangements. How big should the EPWP be? Should it shift its focus from short- to longer-term opportunities, in recognition of the structural and long-term character of unemployment? How can it provide jobs that do not draw people away from market-based jobs but also do not pay ridiculously low wages? Should the programme act as an active labour market policy to enable the provision of accredited training and improved access to market-based jobs (or ‘exit strategies’)? Or should it rather focus on offering very large numbers of job opportunities simply to provide work-based income? What are the institutional barriers to dramatically expanding the numbers employed under the EPWP banner?