What the State Does for the Poor III - The Expanded Public Works Programme: Part I - How it Works

This Brief is a continuation of a series which addresses the question; what is the State doing for the poor? It looks at the Expanded Public Works Programme by seeking to understand how this State-led initiative works.


The Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) was launched in 2004 with the primary aim of alleviating the problem of high unemployment. It has grown since then, and it is now being rolled out nationally with focus placed on economically marginalised urban and rural areas.  
The national Department of Public Works (DPW) oversees the programme, funds it and ensures that there is sound coordination. It is also tasked with monitoring and evaluation functions for the programme. However, the programme is implemented by all tiers of government as well as state-owned enterprises. It is funded through intra-governmental transfers.
The programme provides employment and income to women, youth and disabled persons.  The participants in this programme must be at least sixteen years of age, and must not be the beneficiaries of social grants. The programme is to be understood as an employment safety net, not a long-term employment solution for participants.

The EPWP originally had three main objectives:
  • To create a million temporary job opportunities and income over its first five years;
  • To provide needed labour intensive public goods and services at acceptable standards through the use of public sector budgets, along with public and private sector implementation capacity; and
  • To increase the potential of public works participants to earn future income by providing work experience training and information related to work opportunities, vocational training, as well as Small, Medium and Micro-sized Enterprises.

The third phase of the EPWP is now under way. 2015 Budget documents set out the objectives for 2015/2016:
  • Create 1 127 186 work opportunities (450 462 full time equivalents) through the expanded public works programme by upscaling the programme and improving coordination and performance in all four participating sectors.
  • Ensure that employees from designated groups are participating in the expanded public works programme by confirming that 55 per cent of the participants are women, 55 per cent are youth and 2 per cent are people with disabilities.
  • Increase the number of public bodies reporting on the implementation of the expanded public works programme from 260 in 2014/15 to 275 in 2015/16.

The EPWP is structured as follows: 
The Expanded Public Works Programme: Infrastructure aims to ensure that publicly funded construction and maintenance infrastructure projects are implemented using labour intensive methods in order to create work opportunities.  

The Expanded Public Works Programme: Operations facilitates the creation of work opportunities in the environment, culture and social sectors. The non-state sector provides part-time work opportunities with regular income by funding non-governmental organisations. The Expanded Public Works Programme Unit coordinates departments in each of the sectors, which are known as Sector Lead Departments. The Department of Public Works plays the coordinating role for infrastructure and the non-state sector; the Departments of Environmental Affairs for the environment sector, and the Departments of Health and Social Development for the social sector. Other departments may also play a role.  

The Expanded Public Works Programme: Partnership Support coordinates and supports national, provincial and municipal programmes of the expanded public works programme; and provides an enabling environment for training, enterprise development and communication across the four sectors of the expanded public works programme.
The following programmes form part of the EPWP. 

National Programmes

1. Community Work Programme (CWP)
The participants carry out community work. The sub-programmes are Early Childhood Development, Home Community Based Care, School Nutrition Programme, Community Crime Prevention, School Mass Participation, Kha Ri Gude (a literacy campaign). The CWP is managed by the Department of Cooperative Governance. The overall co-ordinator of the social sector is the Department of Social Development assisted by the Department of Basic Education and the Department of Health.
2. Environmental programmes (ECS)
Environmental programmes create jobs and training in the Environment and Culture Sector. They aim to protect biodiversity, rehabilitate natural resources, and promote community-based natural resource management. The subprogrammes are Sustainable Land-based Livelihoods, Waste Management, Tourism and Creative Industries, Parks and Beautification, Coastal Management, and Sustainable Energy. Various departments are involved, including Environmental Affairs, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and Water Affairs, Tourism, and Arts and Culture.
3. Non-State Sector (NSS)
The NSS forms part of the EPWP and it is aimed at providing wage subsidies to support non-state entities such NGOs in an effort to create work opportunities. It was formed in 2009. The EPWP encourages the municipalities to make use of the skills acquired by the participants during the process.
4. Vukuphile
The Department of Public Works has initiated this programme to build capacity among emerging contractors to execute labour intensive work funded by the EPWP. The intention is to train these learner contractors so that they become fully qualified to tender for, and execute, EPWP projects.

Provincial Programmes

5. Incentive Grant for Provincial Infrastructure
This grant is a performance based incentive paid to provincial bodies implementing their infrastructure and environment and culture programmes using EPWP principles and in accordance with EPWP guidelines. It meets the cost of minimum wages for work created. The intention of the grant is to increase work creation efforts by public bodies by providing a financial performance reward. 
6. Incentive Grant for Social Sector
This grant is an allocation provided to provincial departments implementing social sector EPWP programmes to expand these programmes in accordance with an approved business plan. The intention of the grant is to provide funding to performing programmes to expand the coverage and reach of the social sector programmes and simultaneously expand the number of longer term work opportunities created to support these services.

Municipal Programme(s)

7. Incentive Grant for Municipal Infrastructure
This grant operates under similar terms as the Incentive Grant for Provincial Infrastructure except it focuses on municipalities. 
Separate from the EPWP are numerous other initiatives aimed at reducing unemployment. Three deserve particular attention:

1. The Jobs Fund
The objective of the Jobs Fund is to co-finance projects by public, private and non-governmental organisations that will significantly contribute to job creation. This involves the use of public money to catalyse innovation and investment on behalf of a range of economic stakeholders in activities that contribute directly to enhanced employment creation in South Africa.
The Jobs Fund provides public funding through four “funding windows” i.e. Enterprise Development; Infrastructure Investment; Support for Work Seekers and Institutional Capacity Building.  Within these windows, the Jobs Fund seeks to stimulate good ideas, risk-taking and investment to discover new ways of working, where the costs and risks may be unknown, and where the pro-poor impact, principally in the form of sustainable job creation, may be significantly larger than with conventional approaches.
This project is managed directly by the Treasury.

2. National Rural Youth Service Corps (NARYSEC) programme
NARYSEC's specific key objectives are:
  • To recruit unemployed youth in rural areas.
  • To train the youth through Further Education and Training programmes linked to the identified developmental community projects in rural areas.
  • To develop youth with multi-disciplinary skills through civic education.
The intention is to equip youth to perform community service in their own communities.
NARYSEC is a programme of the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform.
3. The National Youth Service (NYS)
The NYS model has three elements: learning and individual development, service and exit opportunities. 
The learning and individual development of youth service programmes requires that young people develop their own skills, knowledge and competence and that promotes individual development. This component must also enable young men and women to obtain credits registered on the National Qualifications Framework where possible.
The service element of a youth service programme has three components. It:
  • Provides a service that benefits people other than the youth participants (e.g. the community);
  • Promotes the development of a positive profile of youth within the community benefiting from the service; and
  • Provides the young participants with an opportunity for experiential learning or on-the-job experience linked to the structured learning and individual development element.
A youth service programme must include the identification of real and meaningful employment or exit opportunities for young people at the point of completion. Young people should be aware of the employment, further learning and entrepreneurial opportunities they can realistically access at the end of participating in a youth service programme.  
The NYS is run by the National Youth Development Agency. The EPWP website includes documents on the NYS.


The EPWP reflects the State’s intent to alleviate the persistent high unemployment in South Africa, by assuming the role of employer/trainer or funder of employment. It has a heterogeneous and changing structure, reaching many entities in all three tiers of government. In addition, there are closely related initiatives which share much of the same approach, but which are not formally part of the EPWP. There is energy and innovation, but monitoring and evaluation across the board – of which there is some – is essential to figure out what works and what doesn’t. 
Despite the fact that the EPWP provides only temporary work opportunities and limited training, it hopes to increase participants’ employability in the long run, by providing them with skills and work experience.  
Part II of this Brief will consider the EPWP’s track record.
Elias Phaahla