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The New Kapos

By Noah Wilderbeest

The new Kapos like chocolate cake, Krispy-Kreem doughnuts, crystal therapy healing, Reiki sessions and Tarot readings. The new kapos take all friggin’ manner of pop-psych self improvement courses (“7 Highly Effective Ways To Unleash the Inner YOU!”), read the Murdoch press, and use expressions such as; “…that’s because you’re a nurturer!” to one another.

These nurturing qualities do not extend to their charges, in fact it’s actively discouraged.

The new kapos similarly to their twentieth century counterparts, are drawn from the lower end of the socio-economic scale. In the main they’re from unskilled or semi-skilled occupations. In the 90s, the new kapos delivered spare parts to automotive repair shops, drove delivery vans, mowed lawns, worked as kitchen hands or hairdressers, hospital porters or receptionists and maintenance men but that was then and this is now.

The job of the new kapos is to enforce government policy on the payment of unemployment benefits.

Unlike their twentieth century counterparts, the new kapos do not need clubs, whips, dogs or electrified fences to keep their charges in line. They don’t need them. They have effective financial control over each and every ‘client’ they case manage.

The kapos, male and female, are given inordinate power over their clientele.

“Case officers”, “Employment Consultants”, or “Labour Market Specialists” are able to suspend clients unemployment benefit payments for eight weeks – on the spot – for “infringements of their mutual obligation contract” leaving the client to either appeal the decision, a process that can take weeks, and whose outcome is far from certain, or to try to find some means of supporting themselves.

The kapos oversee around 120 clients at any given time and the pressure is on. New inductees are told to; ‘‘get em off the dole anyway you can. Work for the dole, voluntary work, or just breach ‘em for the slightest excuse”. And they have the authority to do so. Most recently, they were given the added powers of being able to breach a client for “not providing a satisfactory outcome” when interviewed by their ‘Labour Management Specialist’.

A satisfactory outcome being total acquiescence to the dictates of someone whose horoscope has told them “best to deal firmly with people who have a negative outlook today.”

Like their mid twentieth century counterparts, the new kapos never question their role, it’s all very straight forward; enforce the rules whether or not there are any jobs for their clients to apply for. Otherwise, it’s the dole queue for the Labour Management Specialist, and in my time at the DS provider, I saw almost a complete staff turnover (approximately 20 staff) within the space of nine months.

During a conversation, a case officer told me that there were plenty of jobs available but most were down to networking, “All the jobs that I’ve had came through networking, they weren’t advertised” she said smugly.

When the topic shifted to a whinge about pay and conditions at the JNS, and I asked her why she didn’t leave if she had such good a network and there were plenty of jobs available.

“I’ve been looking”, she said, “but there hasn’t been anything advertised that’s worthwhile”. I mean, most of them are only casual or part-time and the pay is really shit. I’m really worried what I’ll do when my contract expires”.

Do tell…

Last week it was Paul Farrell’s piece in the Guardian on the entrenched bullying practices of the Jobactive/Disability Service Providers reported by the Australian Unemployed Workers Union National Hot-line.

This week it’s ACOSS remonstrating the government over the use of threats of jail made to welfare recipients.

The fact that 170 people lodged complaints should be reason enough to raise alarm bells about a government funded system which enables private enterprise to seek profit from the curse of unemployment, and it’s a mark of the draconian structure of the system that only 170 complainants had the courage to report their treatment; in all likelihood, the rest were either too cowered or too apathetic. Anyone who has become unemployed quickly learns that they have little or no power and that their fate is in the hands of the new kapos.

Fear and apathy is how the system works. Exploitation through entrenched bullying is how it is carried out…


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  1. Kaye Lee

    Where do you find the time and energy to complain when you have to apply for a kazillion non-existent jobs every month and go to interviews, mainly with the JNS, when you have less than $40 a day on which to live and even that is under threat of being taken away if you don’t tick the boxes?

  2. economicreform

    Blaming the victim is one of the primary characteristics of neoliberalism.

  3. Michael Taylor

    Not only blaming them, but punishing them too. It goes around in circles.

  4. wam

    The most important article I have ever read.
    There have been many many incidents that burnt the church out of my mind.
    The first three 3d bangers, were films:
    The skill and sounds of Carmen Jones put the lie to everything I was told about ‘black people’.
    The mind warp in Kapo gave the truth to the animal in life and put the lie to trust in god,
    Reading this gave me the willys.
    The god of the church is through people whose indoctrination may be modified, The god of computer has no weaknesses and complete power over the kapo justify ever decision. It will always err in its favour. It is able to connect to every other computer in an instant and make decisions without a kapo.
    Every error by any single participant will result in instant retribution.
    pommie experience
    Nearly 90 people a month are dying after being declared fit for work,
    ‘Diabetic David Clapson, 59, died with just £3.44 left in his account after his Jobseeker’s Allowance was axed because he missed an appointment.’
    The WCA, currently administered by private outsourcing firm Maximus, having for most of the last government been run by Atos, has been widely criticised as error-prone and mechanistic, often causing harm to the sick and disabled claimants who are obliged to undergo it. › News › UK News › Benefits
    Jan 14, 2016 – Maximus Inc, which assesses disabled people’s fitness for work, is “a … in line with regulations and they have not received a complaint from the SEC. … “I felt Maximus was wasting vast sums of UK taxpayers’ money and that …
    this government is very scary and oblivious to the extent of collateral damage being done and able to be done by giving shonkies access to government money. They spent millions chasing pink batts to learn nothing then in 2014 the rabbott gave open checques to hundreds of shonky learning institutions who have been preying on the poor aided and abetted by centrelink and overseas companies who get kickbacks. Chech where you vet/tafe fee help emails originate and send them to little billy or torpid tanya. I began receiving emails jan 2014 and sent them on. Never an answer and now not even an automated response.
    I am now spam???
    ps naked civil servant, John Mellion’s the fourth wish and romper stomper complete the antichrists.

  5. mark

    Indeed,a war on the poor.mark

  6. Paul

    This is disgusting. I was in the CES for 8 years in the 1980s and never breached anybody, and neither did any other CES officer I worked with during that time. Abolishing the CES was the worst thing, and was overseen by Tony Abbott as Employment Services Minister.

  7. John Brame

    Too true Paul, I was unemployed for almost 15 years off and on from 1980 – 1995. The CES were always friendly and considerate. In the end it was Newstart that was the big help. Had a successful business ever since. Howard/Abbott took to dismantling these services with religious fervour.

  8. Deanna Jones

    Thanks again, Noah. I would be interested to know what type of qualification is required to work in those places. I couldn’t see social workers or welfare workers doing this type of ‘work’ as it would be impossible to carry it out whilst still complying with the ethical codes of the profession. Does the job provider sector have a code of ethics? It’s outrageous that the clientele are the most vulnerable people in our community, and are being case managed by people who are the least qualified to do so. Ironically, to work with such vulnerable people you really need to have some formal learning around political economy and structural inequality.

    I imagine that in an environment where the work is based on punitive arrangements implemented by ill-qualified people then there is also a strong culture of bullying within the staff as well.

  9. Moz

    You all make valid points, but also sweeping assumptions about a role none of you had worked in. I was a former case manager in the mid 90’s, with a case load of a 120 long term unemployed clients. And yes, one of the reasons I left this job after 4 years was because I wasn’t comfortable with the ‘policing’ and ‘punitive’ aspect of the role. But I might add, I also left because I got sick of trying to genuinely assist those who just were not interested in being helped or helping themselves. Quiet a few people who choose to work in this area come with genuine, altruistic intentions to help those individuals get a job, a life, some dignity, some moral support. In time though it also becomes very clear that a number of the clients they are case managing are exploiting the system. The make up of my case load at the time could be summised this way: 50% genuinely seeking employment; 30% not genuinely seeking employment; and 20% difficult to employ due to issues pertaining to physical/mental health and substance abuse. Noah Wilderbeest, I also take offence to your derogatory and misguided characterisation of case managers and employment officers etc. What do you do or have done to actually help unemployed individuals? It’s easy to sit and write about it on your Mac, whilst sipping soy lattes rather then jumping in the trenches and taking the bullets.

  10. Kim Southwood

    Wow! A masterful Orwellian analogy of current government unemployment strategy.

    The transition from CES to private providers was peremptory but lasting in its ungainliness. Popular fashion in politics of the day was to make the public service more profitable. The secure, comfortable wages and conditions in this government agency were a real drain on the public purse especially when coupled with high expenditure on programs.

    I too worked as a case manager for long-term unemployed from the time it was introduced as a CES strategy until a couple of years before Howard privatised the lot in 1998 and I agree with Paul in decrying its abolition. Breaching clients was more an admission of personal failure in the job. I cannot remember a single “bad” outcome, though the process could take time – and money.

    Then the funding began to dry. By 1996 (Howard’s first reigning year) staff morale was rapidly sinking and any enlightened upper management was looking to move out quickly to escape the death knell. A new breed of manager moved in to clean up and shoe horn the rest of us into voluntary redundancy or a sideways shuffle to another department.

    Departments that didn’t produce revenue were stigmatised. The Australian Public Service had a new look: lean and very mean; key performance indicators were the order of the day. Human perception and understanding became poor cousins to the kind of pragmatism which could make things look impressive on computer printouts – snapshot of the current government? Many, many mistakes were made in the department I moved on to, entirely due to this ‘new’ culture.

    The client pays the price, but then we know that’s the neo-lib’s idea of public service efficiency.

    Excellent article, thankyou.

  11. king1394

    Among the 100s of jobs I applied for while on Newstart were a couple with Job Search Agencies. One had a long questionnaire about my attitudes and values and the other conducted a telephone interview (out of the blue). Both were intriguing in that it became clear that the point was to winnow out people who expressed views indicating willingness to sympathise with job seekers who were struggling with problems. ‘What would be your approach to a job seeker who missed an interview because he missed the bus?’ type questions. In retrospect, the get the job I should have answered that the person should be sanctioned, not that efforts should be made to help ensure the person got another opportunity.

    I have met hard-working, kind and conscientious people at my various job agencies – they don’t last

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