The groundswell of calls to change Age Pension rules to allow older Australians to work without penalty grows ever stronger, with the National Farmers Federation, the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia and Independent MPs Rebekha Sharkie and Dai Le joining National Seniors Australia in urging the Albanese government to adopt what NSA calls its ‘Let Pensioners Work’ policy.
The cornerstone of that policy is exempting employment income from the Age Pension income test, so pensioners with limited wealth can work without losing their pension and help meet critical labour force shortages. National Seniors Australia (NSA) has called on pensioners to sign a petition supporting its call.
At present, a person receiving the Age Pension can earn $190 per fortnight without affecting their pension payment. This increases to $490 if the extra $300 is obtained through employment. But for every dollar over that, the Age Pension amount reduces by 50 cents, effectively making it a 50 per cent marginal tax rate.
Ms Sharkie believes that ceiling should either increase or be abolished. She has introduced a motion to Parliament to facilitate that change.
“This scheme will allow thousands of senior Australians to return to the workforce without an enormous tax burden and will help alleviate critical workforce shortages felt by businesses across the country,” she said.
The National Farmers Federation (NFF) supports Ms Sharkie’s call, suggesting that many so-called ‘grey nomads’ would welcome the chance to earn some extra income via fruit-picking while travelling. Farmers’ ability to find workers has been severely compromised by the COVID pandemic, with travel restrictions effectively cutting off the supply of backpackers and foreign workers who would normally take on those roles.
“Quite often in the peak of the harvest season, that day here and day there is really valuable to the farmers, because it means they can actually get the fruit into the containers and into the shed,” said NFF president Fiona Simson.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton suggested in July that pensioners could help alleviate the worker shortage, although not everyone thinks pensioners taking on such physical work is a good idea.
Mr Dutton’s call prompted a Twitter backlash, including a remark from one tweeter suggesting tongue-in-cheek that it would be “a win-win. If they live, they provide cheap labour for farmers and if they die, we don’t have to pay them a pension!”
But senior Australian advocate Cherie Romaro says many pensioners want to work. Citing the case of Senior Australian of the Year Val Dempsey, a nurse who says she can work only one day a week without risking the loss of part of her pension, Ms Romaro said: “How ridiculous is this, when we are so desperate for nurses to work around the clock fighting the pandemic?”
“Instead of our pensioners being inactive at home, scared of losing their pittance, we could and should give them a purpose,” she said. “It could be done with one quick stroke of a pen. The government could help to solve the labour shortage hindering our economic recovery.”
Are you a pensioner who wants to work more? Has the income test prevented you from doing so? Why not share your experience and thoughts in the comments section below?
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