Youth employment subsidy may cause significant collateral damage.
Older workers are already losing their jobs as a result of the federal government’s JobMaker initiative, according to Ian Yates, chief executive of the Council on the Ageing (COTA).
“We are very worried,” he said. “Already we've seen reports of older workers being laid off so they can be replaced with JobMaker workers.”
Mr Yates said COTA, an advocate for the rights of older Australians, had heard from “several” mature-aged workers being given notice as their bosses looked to take advantage of the JobMaker subsidy, introduced during the recent federal budget to counter youth unemployment.
JobMaker aims to create 450,000 jobs for young people, who’ve been four times more likely to lose their jobs or have their hours cut during the coronavirus pandemic. It offers $200 a week for businesses to hire workers under the age of 30, who are currently on JobSeeker, receiving a Youth Allowance or the Parenting Payment for at least 20 hours per week. The subsidy is $100 a week for workers aged 30 to 35. All businesses, except for the major banks, can access the scheme, which will be available for up to a year.
However, the Coalition claim that the subsidy would create 450,000 jobs has been challenged by Treasury, which asserts that just 45,000 “genuinely additional” jobs would be created.
The Guardian reports: "Treasury officials revealed the conservative estimated benefit of the JobMaker hiring credit on Monday, ahead of a snap inquiry likely to spark calls to legislate more safeguards to the program.”
When the subsidy was proposed, ACTU Australian Council of Trade Unions president Michele O’Neil said JobMaker had many flaws that “hadn’t been thought through”.
Ms O’Neill was concerned that older workers would be replaced by several younger ones.
“You’ve increased overall headcount and payroll, but replaced older workers with younger ones,” she told The New Daily.
“The employer will get double the wage subsidy if they employ two workers for 20 hours a week than if it was one for 40 hours. There’s no requirement for secure jobs or full-time jobs. They could hire them for a short period and replace them with another worker.”
Greens leader Adam Bandt wanted to see details of the scheme, concerned it might worsen the unemployment crisis. And Labor leader Anthony Albanese was concerned 928,000 jobless people aged over 35 would be disadvantaged.
Mr Yates sought a subsidy for older workers.
“Many mature-aged workers who are out of work due to the pandemic are facing disastrous personal circumstances. The Liquid Assets Waiting Period means they must spend their savings before they can get help: savings they will need in retirement,” Mr Yates told senior.com.au.
“Australia needs urgent action, or we'll push a huge group, mostly women, into poverty in old age.”
Mr Yates supported the scheme but said mature and older workers were “equally vulnerable”.
He said people aged 18 to 24 and over-55s were most in need, and older people took twice as long to get a job.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said that the headcount and payroll of businesses needed to be higher after they hired people via JobMaker. He said this “integrity test” would ensure older workers were not exploited.
However, there is already rampant age discrimination in employment, said Professor Marian Baird, who heads work and organisational studies at the University of Sydney.
Prof. Baird told the ABC that JobMaker provided an incentive for employers to “cherry-pick people of a certain age”.
She feared it could encourage employers to “abandon older people in the labour market”.
“So, you could substitute someone who is 40 with someone who is 22.”
Prof. Baird said it was “a recipe for casualisation” because employers were only required to hire people for an average of 20 hours a week over a quarter to qualify for the subsidy.
“Someone could work 30 or 40 hours a week, none the next,” she said. “There's no indication jobs have to be permanent or ongoing.”
Professor Andrew Stewart, an employment law specialist at the University of Adelaide, said the scheme would be difficult to police.
Anglicare Australia's annual Jobs Availability Snapshot found that disadvantaged jobseekers, including older workers, were competing with more people for fewer jobs.
This year, eight jobseekers are competing for each entry-level job. If all jobseekers are included, there are 106 jobseekers for each entry-level job.
There are also 1.63 million under-employed Australians who could also be competing for these jobs.
“If we're serious about helping people, we need to create jobs that match their skills – instead of forcing them to compete for jobs that just aren't there,” said Anglicare Australia executive director Kasy Chambers.
Have you experienced ageism in the workforce? Do you think JobMaker will disadvantage older workers?
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