Lockdown Used to Dismiss EPWP Workers
The 5,000 EPWP workers falling under Gauteng’s Department of Infrastructure Development have not received their April stipends. These stipends of R2,200 are completely inadequate in normal times. They are below even the poverty-level national minimum wage. But under the harsh conditions of the lockdown whole families and communities have suffered a collapse in income. Receiving the small stipend has become a matter of life and death.
The decision of the Gauteng DID to choose this moment to carry through its threat to cancel the contracts of its workers and deny them an income is an act of barbarity. Workers will not be surprised by the Department’s cruelty. It is the culmination of years of abuse and exploitation.
The issue has never been that the Department could not fund the existing EPWP workers. The Department’s argument has been that they made a mistake by keeping the same workers on the programme for as long as seven years. They wanted to bring new people in. Surely they are not recruiting during the lockdown? Therefore the money that should have been paid in stipends must just be sitting and gathering dust.
When the EPWP Forum inquired from the returning Chief Director, Ms Rae Davids, about the non-payment of the April stipends she declared that the contracts had expired. Therefore the Gauteng Provincial Government had nothing to do with the EPWP workers any longer. This was despite the fact that the DID had given a written undertaking to engage with the workers as a result of the 9 and 10 March protest and sleep-over at the DID’s Corner House HQ in Johannesburg.
In the two weeks after the Corner House protest management played hide and seek with workers’ leaders. They would not pitch to meetings, reschedule them, and then again fail to turn-up. The State of Disaster and lockdown must have come as a huge relief to them! They could let the contract expiration date come and go. With workers shut up at home, guarded by soldiers and under threat of arrest if they tried to assemble they were safe from fresh protests.
Ms Davids has been away from the DID for some time after being suspended for incompetence. She was responsible for the DID’s failure to comply with the requirements of the EPWP programme on training for example. It was under her watch that the legitimate expectation of permanent employment was created. The MEC’s Chief of Staff admitted this in the meeting with the workers on 9March.
Ms Davids has celebrated returning to her post by sending EPWP workers and their families into starvation and destitution. But she is able to feed her family during the lockdown from the comfort of her home and fat salary. Ms Davids insists that the EPWP workers are not the Gauteng Provincial Government’s responsibility. But officials from the same government are denying EPWP workers emergency food parcels, claiming that they are still employed. Whether it is Ms Davids who is lying, or the officials responsible for distributing food, the effect is the same: EPWP workers and their families are starving.
Reports show that the distribution of food parcels is already marred by corruption. Three ANC councillors were arrested in the North West for having the parcels delivered to their houses. They wanted to buy the ‘gratitude’ of the community by allocating the parcels themselves. EPWP workers are very used to this trick. It is an open secret that ANC councillors use EPWP ‘jobs’ to try and win votes. They even call EPWP workers to campaign for them in elections to return the ‘favour’.
On TV President Ramaphosa has been calling for South Africa to act with “solidarity, understanding and compassion” and face the coronavirus crisis as a “united country”. He has even offered to cut his salary by one third for the next three months. Most workers would have been very sceptical about this. Firstly, Ramaphosa can afford to take a cut in his salary of nearly R3 million per year, which comes to R250,000 per month. Whilst he volunteered his salary cut, he gave ordinary public sector workers no such option. He simply refused to implement the 2020 wage increase agreed to in the agreement signed in 2018. That is theft.
We are therefore not surprised that Ramaphosa’s deployees in the ANC-run Gauteng Provincial Government have followed his example as a liar and hypocrite. They have not even followed the guidelines issued by Ramaphosa’s ministers.
On 26 March, Patricia De Lille, Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure issued a Ministerial Directive concerning EPWP workers. All EPWP workers ultimately fall under the jurisdiction of the national department. The Directive was sent to “all national, provincial and local government public bodies”. It applies to the Gauteng DID’s EPWP workers.
The Directive says that EPWP employers are “required” to:
Ensure that salary of all EPWP workers that have employment contracts that are active for the period 27 March 2020 to 16 April 2020 or any part thereof; is paid.
On 27 March all of the Gauteng DID’s EPWP workers were still employed. The department has clearly breached a Ministerial Directive by withholding the April stipends.
On 17 April the CEO of miner Impala Platinum appeared in court charged with contravening the regulations of the State of Disaster by prematurely re-calling 6,000 workers during the lockdown. We demand that the Gauteng DID is placed in the dock too. De Lille’s Ministerial Directive was issued by invoking the provisions of the Disaster Management Act. By ignoring the Directive the DID is also in contravention of the act. The MEC, the HOD and DDGs should be arrested and charged.
- Arrest and charge the Gauteng DID’s leadership
- Immediate payment of the April stipends
- Distribution of food parcels to EPWP workers’ households
- Moratorium on the cancellation of EPWP workers’ contracts for the duration of the State of Disaster and the re-opening of negotiations as soon as it is lifted
The world and the country is in turmoil. But the EPWP workers’ struggle has not ended! Mass action will resume as soon as workers decide it is safe to do so!
WORKERS ARE COMING BACK FOR WHAT IS THEIRS – PERMANENT JOBS AND R12,500 PER MONTH!
On Friday a top police official warned that social unrest is looming over food supplies. Many media commentators are also warning the same. The action of the ANC-run Gauteng government is leaving workers few options. Starvation is 100% guaranteed to kill. However, it is possible to survive coronavirus and bullets can be dodged. We were told that the State of Disaster was meant to protect workers from the virus. The ANC government’s anti-working class policies are turning an increasingly brutal army and police into instruments for the enforcement of starvation. It is placing before the masses the choice of dying under a hail of SANDF bullets or dying from hunger. Let this government be warned.
Originally published as a Gauteng EPWP Workers Forum statement.