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17 March 2015
by Edward Eastwood

Unemployment looms for Job Network staff: Karma’s a bitch

Are staff at the Job Network Providers about to fall prey to rising unemployment? Edward Eastwood reports:

My case-work officer at the Job Network provider doesn’t seem too bad a human being. It’s just that he has some strange ideas and is looking very worried.
He worries about dole bludgers and those who rort the system, he worries about Islamic terrrorists. He thinks that putting young unemployed into the army is a good idea. He sees himself as an avenger appointed by that most put upon of species; the Australian tax-payer.
On this day however, he is not worried about any of the above. Today he’s worried about job loss – his own.

Following the usual meet and greet, he tells me that Job Network provider which employs him has lost its contract and in all likelihood, he too will lose his job.

I make noises of mild surprise and then we go through the same old rigmarole, where am I working?, how many hours?, is my employer aware that I want more work? Would I like him to phone my employer and tell them that I’m looking for more hours?




I mention that I’m teaching English as a Second Language to middle aged Vietnamese who once worked in factories and are now forced by the ‘earn or learn’ policies to attend English classes.

He tells me that there is a crackdown on “the people who having been doing these courses over and over. Some of them, particularly the Vietnamese, having been learning English for nine years.”

“Oh yeah, what do you know about Vietnamese culture?”

He gives me a blank look.

“It’s a Confucian culture which means that it’s both family and socially centred. Most Vietnamese would rather work in their own family businesses rather than work for someone else.”

“When they came as refugees, they worked every shit job that the locals wouldn’t do. They made the cars, they cleaned the toilets, they worked the factories and the fields.

“Now the factories have all but disappeared, what is it that you expect them to do?”

I get another blank look and then he turns to the screen and begins to punch in a few details.

More rigmarole and we move into phase two of the meeting; ‘checking the clients welfare 101′.

He can see I’m in a shitty mood but fools rush in, and he attempts to engage me in friendly conversation.

“What do you think is the greatest danger in the world today?”

“Global warming. Why? What do you think is the greatest danger in the world?”

“Fundamentalist terrorism.”

“Oh yeah, so you think that there’s a good chance that ISIS will succeed in imposing Sharia Law under an 11th century Caliphate and do away with democracy?”

“We’ve gotta be on our guard!”

For some reason, his answer shifts the conversation to his views of putting young unemployed into military service.

I ask him if he’s ever served in the Armed Forces and he tells me “No, but I did try to get in.”

Another armchair warrior who have never served but would eagerly force service on others as a cure to society’s ills.

This time it’s my turn to give the stony gaze.

He ploughs on.

“I saw something about investigations into RTO’s a day or so ago. What’s that all about?”

“I don’t know. I did see that TAFE’s are coming under investigation altering the grades of international students so that they pass the entrance exam.”

“Yeah, I had woman in here who had a Cert Two in Aged Care telling me she wanted to learn English! I mean, how did she get the qualification if she couldn’t speak English?”

“I knew she was lying about not speaking English. How could she get the qualification if she didn’t speak the language spoken in class?”

“Good question. What was the upshot?”

“It went to the team manager and in the end they let her do the English classes.”

“So, how did you feel about that?”

“Well, I knew something was phoney. Either she was phoney or her qualification was phoney.”

“What did you decide?”

“I came to the conclusion that her qualification was phoney.”

“Yeah, well I guess that’s what you get when you try to make a commodity out of education and sell it for a profit”. When the owners interest is solely pecuniary, academic rigour and standard take a distant second place”.

No answer to that one either, and he turns his attention to booking my next appointment.

“Ok, I’ll see you in three weeks and then I’ll also be able to tell you whether we’ll be here for any longer.”

“What happens to you?”

“I’ll have to find something else. I also work part time for a cleaning company and I might be able to get full time work with them.”

I can’t help myself and decide to twist the knife.

“How well do you think you’ll survive on a part time cleaners pay, and how long do you think it will be before you’re replaced with a 457 visa holder?”

“Oh no,” he says. “They’re pretty good. I don’t think they’d do that.” He frowns and a flicker of doubt crosses his face. “Nah… they wouldn’t do that.”

“Oh yeah? Are you sure about that?”

“Yeah, pretty sure.”

“How do you feel about this?”

He gives an exasperated sigh and sinks back into his chair.

“It’s just so much stress and anxiety. You don’t know where you are from one day to the next. Whether you’ve got a job or not.”

I want to put the boot in and tell him that now he knows how every person who walks through the door feels and they also carry the added weight of self appointed avengers of the tax-payer and righters of rorts breathing down their neck but I say nothing.

I can see the fear in his eyes. He knows that very shortly he’ll be in the same situation as his clients, struggling to find work and reliant on the dole to make up the difference. Which means that he’ll also be reporting to his counterpart at another Job Network provider – and it fills him with anxiety.

Working on the front line of unemployment he knows the real truth of the job market and the future looks even more bleak than the present.

He’s my ninth case officer over a period of nearly four years and typical of the staff in these organisations and their claims to petty officialdom.

The system of private employment agencies enforcing welfare regulations while at the same time receiving subsidies for job placement or breaching offenders was never going to work in the long term.

While the Howard government was successful in keeping the focus on ‘mutual obligation’ to the tax-payer by the unemployed as a means of deflecting attention away from from its own half of the bargain – that of job creation through government initiative, the Abbott government has no such luxury.

In the past eighteen months, the tide of unemployment has risen so rapidly as to make itself felt even among the ‘enforcement arms’ of the government’s welfare watch-dogs.

As the unemployment rate climbs and the job vacancies plummet, the JNS contractors are increasingly unable to meet their ‘targets’ and so contracts are cancelled.

For the corporations who own these organisations, it’s simply a matter of a name change and a re-tender for available contracts.

For many employees, it’s joining their clients among the ranks of the working poor or the unemployed.

As I walked back to my car, I think of the countless people who have been caused anxiety and stress trying to comply with policies designed to be punitive for the unemployed while at the same time profiting from their misfortune, enforced by people like my case officer and the organisation he works for.

I try to have some sympathy for his plight but fuck ‘im. Karma’s a bitch.