The UK believes older workers are the key to COVID recovery.
It seems this ideal is not shared by the Australian Government.
At least that’s what Labor’s unemployment spokesperson Brendan O’Connor is saying.
According to an International Longevity Centre UK (ILC-UK ) report, nearly one in three workers across the G20 is aged 50 and over – this could rise to 40 per cent of the workforce by 2035.
These workers generated every third dollar earned across the G20 in 2014.
By 2035, they’re projected to generate nearly 40 per cent of all earnings.
The study showed that if all older people in G20 countries were encouraged and supported to work at the same rates as Iceland they would see a GDP gain of around $3.7 trillion.
With this in mind, the ILC-UK wants an ‘Ageing Society New Deal’ that would see G20 countries invest more to encourage and support older workers.
“Policy makers are so fixated on the direct costs of ageing that they fail to notice the significant and growing contributions that older people make,” said ILC-UK director David Sinclair.
“This prevents them from fully realising the social and economic potential of older people – and from appreciating the longevity dividend.
“Older people’s social and economic impact is already significant, but there’s potential to increase this further. The barriers they face are in part avoidable – and the most important is poor health.
“Despite the tragedy and the devastation, COVID-19 has placed society in an exceptional moment to prioritise health and act on ageing. It has shown us how health and the economy are linked and has exposed the dangers of under-investing in prevention.
“Let’s use this shift in mind-set to raise the necessary funds today to realise a longevity dividend tomorrow.”
The Australian Government’s version of a ‘New Deal” for older workers is its Restart program, in which the Coalition has spent less than half what it promised to help older Australians into work.
More than 40 per cent of those who actually accessed the program were out of a job within three months.
Restart provides employers up to $10,000 to hire and retain mature age employees who are 50 years of age and over.
In 2014, the Coalition promised to spend $520 million to help 32,000 older Australians find a job every year.
To date, a total of $254m has been spent to help 51,190 mature-age people into work, 30,379 of whom remained in employment for 13 weeks or more, and less than half (21,966) lasting more than six months. The recently announced JobMaker scheme will throw $4bn in wage subsidies to companies that hire workers aged 35 and under.
The Morrison government has defended its decision to exclude older workers – or anyone over 35 – from the JobMaker scheme, by saying its Restart program was already helping them.
However, Labor’s employment spokesman MR O’Connor says the Restart program “has been an utter failure in getting older people into work and yet the government is touting it as its signature policy for Australians over 50”.
“Not only is it undersubscribed, 40 per cent of workers under this program were without work within three months,” he told Guardian Australia.
Mr O’Connor has been a strong opponent of the program since its inception.
Back in 2015, employment minister Michaelia Cash said that, “Restart is a demand-driven programme and the government budgeted for a maximum uptake of 32,000.”
And even back then, Mr O’Connor had a dig at the program.
“It’s the government’s program that needs a restart as it’s proving to be a dismal failure,” he said.
“No amount of rhetorical flourish from the Prime Minister can hide the real reason the program doesn’t work – there simply are not the jobs available.”
Labor’s last foray into supporting older workers – Experience + Jobs bonus scheme – also fell on its face, with only 230 of the 10,000 target taking advantage of the $1000 annual subsidy.
Labor has backed the Budget’s income tax cuts and business tax concessions but is so far blocking JobMaker pending a Senate inquiry.
“If Scott Morrison was serious about driving down unemployment and kickstarting the recovery, he would not be excluding almost a million Australians aged over 35 on unemployment payments from his new multi-billion-dollar wage subsidy scheme,” said Mr O’Connor.
There are also concerns the program could actually push older workers with jobs on to the unemployment line.
The JobMaker scheme itself already excludes older workers, says the Australian Council of Trade Unions, but the credits for employing younger people could also incentivise businesses to sack older workers in favour of subsidising younger workers.
Labor and the Coalition may have different views of older workers, but so far, both party’s plans to get them back to work have been flawed.
What government incentives would you like to see to get older workers back on the job?
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