Public employment programmes (PEPs) have been widely used for many years to help mitigate the temporary effects of natural disasters and economic downturns, while stimulating employment and inclusive growth. Such programmes are well understood and documented. However, there is also a wider case for public employment programmes beyond times of crisis, as part of longer-term employment policies, says Professor Alan Hirsch, head of the Graduate School of Development Policy and Practice (GSDPP).
In response to the need to expand the scope for PEPs, the GSDPP held its fourth executive course in mid-March, titled Innovations in Public Employment Programmes. Run in collaboration with the International Labour Office's International Training Centre (based in Turin), the course was very well received, with nearly 50 policymakers and practitioners attending. "Public Employment Programmes require policy debate as well as significant innovation, in relation to the types and quality of work, working conditions and the right to work," says Hirsch. "There is a need to significantly expand the range and scope of policy choices, including opportunities for public employment programmes, to address structural unemployment or serve as a component of a wider social protection scheme."
The GSDPP's latest executive course aimed to do exactly that, and resulted in lively debate on tough issues, with participants expressing their appreciation for the opportunity to engage in stimulating discussion and to network with colleagues. Deputy Minister of Public Works Jeremy Cronin presented an argument for PEPs' contribution to transformative development, raising thought-provoking issues, especially around the structural nature of unemployment in South Africa.
"If South Africa is to address this problem," he said, "our PEP initiatives cannot just be temporary placeholders [and] gap-fillers; they need to be integrated into a long-range, systemic [and] transformational response." Presentations on innovative approaches to public employment programmes in India and Ethiopia were among the highlights of the week-long course. Berhanu Washie, director of the Ethiopian Productive Safety Nets Programme, highlighted innovative approaches to securing water resources in a country often beset by drought, while Dinesh Jain, joint secretary of the Indian Ministry of Rural Development, explained the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.
As the name suggests, this Act guarantees rural people 100 days of work per annum, on demand, enabling them to plan and slowly develop their livelihoods to the point at which they are no longer dependent on the programme. So far, this programme has benefited in excess of 66 million people. The programme is absolutely transparent, with all details - including all expenses and payments - catalogued on their website, open to everyone.
Both case studies demonstrated the ability of PEPs to support vast numbers of people by drawing them into participatory processes and helping them determine their own development planning. They also had significant impacts in terms of climate mitigation and adaptation strategies, especially related to water resources.
There was also considerable interest in and appreciation for South Africa's own public employment programmes, Working for Water being the best known. Christo Marais, chief director of the Department of Environmental Affairs, spoke passionately about PEPs and the restoration of natural capital, highlighting the important work being done to secure South Africa's water resources. The course drew participants from Malawi, Zambia, Namibia and many corners of South Africa.
"A number of national government departments (such as Public Works and Social Development) sent strong delegations, and the demand both before and after the course has ensured that another course will be run next year," Hirsch added.
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