On Monday 4 October Gauteng EPWP workers will return to the CCMA in Pretoria. The Commission will hear the case on the March 2020 dismissal of over 3,000 workers by the ANC-run Gauteng Department of Infrastructure. The workers had been employed for seven years. (See here for a detailed account of the Gauteng EPWP Workers Forum’s struggle.)
For 18 months now thousands of workers have been left with no income to support themselves or their families. We have reported previously that many workers who applied for the pathetic R350 Social Relief of Distress grant were rejected because the system showed them as still employed. Throughout the pandemic unemployment has continued to rise. It has now hit 44%. There simply are no other jobs for the dismissed EPWP workers.
The case has taken over five months between its first and second hearing. The ANC is responsible for this in more ways than one. Firstly, the CCMA has suffered massive budget cuts. This included ending the role of its 565 part-time commissioners delaying cases from being heard and resolved. Whilst employers can withstand this – indeed many welcome it! – for workers it means prolonged suffering and hardship. The EPWP workers waited 157 days between hearings. This is more than double the average 2020 waiting time of 70 days for full resolution, itself up from an average 63 days in 2019. The first hearing itself came only months after the case was first submitted. Secondly, the DID itself has continued its ‘cat and mouse’ tactics, delaying proceedings by switching legal teams mid-case, and repeatedly asking for “more time”.
During the EPWP workers’ 18 months of hardship those who caused their suffering have done very well for themselves. The ANC MEC responsible for the DID, Tasneem Motara, who cruelly told the workers when they approached her for permanent jobs that they were “none of my business”, has earned nearly R3 million from her MEC’s salary since March 2020. Her boss, the ANC’s Gauteng Premier David Makhura, has earned over R3.4 million.
The pandemic has been used for a corruption feeding frenzy by the Gauteng ANC. Dodgy PPE and school-cleaning tenders have been used to loot hundreds of millions of rands – R431 million was spent ‘sanitising’ schools; R117 million was spent ‘fogging’ other public buildings; R332 million was irregularly awarded for PPE procurement. Before news of these scandals broke the Gauteng EPWP Workers Forum had written to the Gauteng government proposing that the dismissed workers be re-employed, trained and assigned sanitising work. This was ignored. Clearly the reason for this was that it would have reduced looting opportunities! Instead, thousands of workers and their families were made to suffer whilst money that could have employed them was stolen by ANC ‘covidpreneurs’. This stolen money could also have been used to reverse all the budget cuts at the CCMA. Incredibly, the ANC is now shamelessly expecting working class communities to vote for their candidates in the upcoming local elections!
Over 1,000 EPWP workers remain part of the CCMA case. They are demanding reinstatement and permanent jobs. The Nupsaw trade union and its legal department are representing the workers. Nupsaw won an important victory against the Gauteng Department of Health in August 2020 which saw an agreement reached to give Community Health Workers (another of the ANC-government’s slave-labour programmes) permanent jobs. Nupsaw combined a programme of mass actions with court cases over several years to win the agreement. The Gauteng DID workers want the same! As a minimum the EPWP workers expect the precedent set by the Gauteng DoH to be extended to them.
The experiences of the Gauteng DID’s EPWP workers confirms the deeply anti-working class character of the ANC at every level – from national government, through the provinces and down to the municipalities. This party could not care less about workers and their families.
Regardless of the outcome of the CCMA case EPWP workers must remain organised. If they return to work they must remain organised in Nupsaw and join the struggles in the wider public sector, especially on the question of public sector pay. If the CCMA does not reinstate them, the EPWP workers are well positioned to take initiatives to organise the unemployed and link them to the trade union movement in a struggle for jobs for ALL. On 28 September, in Virginia in the Free State, residents organised protests against unemployment demanding jobs from the mines in the area. Protests like these need to take place across the country and be linked-up into a powerful movement.
Continuing the struggle to organise the millions of unorganised workers on EPWP programmes and its different spin-offs will be crucial to building such a movement. In Gauteng alone thousands of new slaves have been forced onto the programmes by the lack of jobs. These workers will now face the same exploitation and cruelty as those who have come before them. But the workers from the DID’s 2013 cohort have already blazed a trail for them and set an outstanding example in working class organisation. This experience needs to be shared. The masses of EPWP workers must be organised and turned into a working class army with regiments in every community standing at the forefront in the struggle against exploitation by the capitalist class and its ANC-government.