What needs to be done to stop age discrimination?

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Having spent five years as Age Discrimination Commissioner, Susan Ryan is across the issues that older Australians are facing. But is the landscape really as bad as we believe? Or are we blind to a lot of what actually goes on?

What was the biggest change you witnessed during your time as Age Discrimination Commissioner? Is there any one thing that did not happen, that you wish had occurred?
The biggest change I saw as Age Discrimination Commissioner was the increase in coverage in all forms of media of the existence of damaging age discrimination in the workplace. Not only did specialist publications, such as YourLifeChoices, give a lot of informed coverage of these issues, I was delighted that radio stations all over Australia were always keen to talk to me, and usually got massive responses from listeners. TV and print were also prepared to run stories, including high-level research reports as well as individual stories. What did not happen was the positioning of the economic implications of our increased longevity as a top priority for attention by governments. I have recommended a new cabinet role, a Minister for Older Australians, to ensure this priority and create coordination of employment, health, welfare, training and industry policies across Government. I am still waiting on a Government response to this proposal.

Do you think there is more that the older generation of Australians can do to improve their chances of equality in the workforce?
Older people themselves need to take action and be prepared to change. Older workers often do need to upgrade their skills and should see this as valuable professional development rather than as an embarrassing admission of being out of date. Older workers also need to adopt positive workplace attitudes to younger colleagues, and aim to develop intergenerational teams, rather than expressing irritation with the way some younger workers approach their tasks. Be prepared to mentor them and pass on the benefits of your experience, and be prepared to learn from them. Perhaps the most important thing to do as we get older is to look after our health. While some employers are committed to developing healthier workplaces, individuals need to take responsibility for their own health, because unaddressed health problems can cause people to lose their jobs too.

Is there an initiative that the Government could embrace that would help older Australians live a better life (i.e. with more social equity) in retirement?
I hope the Federal Government will roll out across the nation the Skills Checkpoint plan it has piloted at my suggestion. This is a scheme that facilitates any worker approaching middle age to get a skills analysis and some practical advice about where the local jobs are and what training is needed for them to qualify. This Checkpoint should be carried out before the older worker is retrenched, or finds that they are physically unable to continue their current role. In the case of workers in declining sectors, such as car manufacturing, they should get this advice so they can transition to a growth sector before their current plant closes. The cost of the Checkpoint could be shared between Government and employers, where they are large corporations, or in the case of small business by Government, with the individual making a contribution if possible. It would be a sound investment of public dollars and it would greatly support individuals to have longer and more productive working lives and thus save more for retirement.

What is the biggest mistake we make as a nation when it comes to our older workers/pensioners?
The biggest mistake we make as a nation is failing to realise that older people, in their 60s and even 70s, are often fit, healthy, keen to work and ready to take on new roles. The old stereotyping of over 55s as past their prime and of no use to employers must be abandoned. As a nation we continue to waste the great human capital held by capable, experienced older people who are willing to work. Pensioners are often willing to take on some part time or casual work to supplement their Age Pension and continue to contribute, but complicated benefit eligibility rules often make this not worth doing.

What is more concerning: the way in which older Australians are discriminated against in the work force or the general acceptance by society that people have a use-by date?
Although I have seen some progress in employment of older people over the last few years, ageism is still a huge blockage and causes poverty and despair to too many people. The prejudice in the workplace however, reflects a deeper community prejudice against older people. There is too facile an acceptance by the community generally that older people are inevitably slow, resistant to change, prone to serious health problems, and generally not up to much, in fact, past their use by date. Evidence shows all these prejudices are wrong and as generalisations, without basis, but they persist. The Federal Government needs to develop vast, long lasting communications campaigns to address these misconceptions. Government should work in partnership with business and community organisations to re-educate our whole society on the realities of older people and the great value that represent.

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Written by susanry


Total Comments: 49
  1. 0

    Why would you want to work passed retirement age. You are no-longer covered by workers insure. Insurance has deemed you as high risk. If you are injured its on you

    • 0

      I actually think its a ploy to make older people stay in the workforce so they don’t need Government welfare.
      Some elderly people can work on forever and they enjoy it. Most of don’t and people age quite differently at the end of the spectrum.
      What I have found, like the elderly who drive a car when they shouldn’t, don’t realise they have reached the end on their working life span too. That’s the point where others are carrying their workload and their resistance to new innovation hampers the companies future growth.
      On the other side of the coin when I was in the workforce the managerial positions were going to the 30-45 year old bracket and the first thing they wanted gone was anyone older or with more experience who would be keeping a critical eye over their performance. In fact they wouldn’t even look at the resume of anyone older than themselves.

    • 0

      Why sit on welfare when and if you have something to offer and gain Rosret?

      As you and Kev say, people age differently. True, some do not realise or appreciate their failings (this applies at any age) but appropriate relations/management can sort that out on an individual basis. It is always negative; unproductive, to assess people by group.That is all ‘aegism’ is, another classification used because one is too lazy to investigate the qualities and gains available or too ignorant to consider values other than their own narrow subset as being worthwhile.

      In their 60’s, 70’s and later legions of people need not “…hamper(s) the companies growth.” or have “…others carrying their workload…” where they have something to give there is a price and a systematic involvement to suit. I know 90 year olds who could tell you that in a forthright manner.

  2. 0

    The fact that after age 50 you have Buckley’s chance of getting a job is discrimination in itself. If older people gave a damn and organised they could bring businesses to their feet by vetoing their products. Age discrimination would stop within a week. Unfortunately only legislation can do what laziness does not do.

    • 0

      I agree Mick but I am a little perplexed as to how legislation can help. My first redundancy came at about 50 after 35 years with the one organisation. I had multiple jobs after that, mainly through labour hire, and very few of them were permanent. I lost count of the number of applications for jobs for which I was fully qualified and experienced where mostly I got no response. Most employers are fully aware of how to not accept older applicants legally.

    • 0

      I agree with O.G and MICK, you can not legislate to make people act fairly in the job market. Myself, I would not like to be in a position where I had been given a job because the employer was forced to give it to me.
      In the current job market your application can be culled at any time before the interview process and you have little recourse to appealing the decision. I have served on many employment panels in my time and have yet to find any type of vetting, preferential weighting system or policy statement that will guarantee or improve the chances of those who are seen as too old, too young, too ethnic or too feminine or masculine.
      The only way to do it is to make it illegal to ask about age, sex, religion, ethnic background or specifics around time spent in the workforce. This in turn makes it impossible to relate one’s experience and will all come to nothing at the interview stage.

  3. 0

    One of the major concerns affecting all older Australians is the ability to control their destiny. It should be a fundamental right for all humans to be able to decide when they want to cease living. This goes a lot further than voluntary euthanasia for the terminally ill, it should cover those whose lives are so unbearable that they see no pint in living.

    Neither the ALP nor the Coalition support this cause. Why? Because the Christian Right seems to hold sway over both political parties. With 80% of the people supporting VE democracy is certainly not working.

  4. 0

    Forget about Employers Prejudice!
    It is OUR OWN GOVERNMENT….that js Discriminating against people based on Age!
    Look at their constant attacks / cuts to Pensions…..their own Departmental policies of Getting Rid of DeadWood…..their Constant refusal to allow reasonable Part Time employment whilst on a Pension without Penalty.
    Employers follow the example set by The Government of the day!
    Current Governments have an 80″s mentality of Punishment & Discrimination to the Elderly ….they should encourage participation by non penalties and Lead Reforms to set an example!
    Labelling Pensioners as Welfare does not Help!

    • 0

      Never forget Joe Hockey.

      After lecturing us on the need to be lifters, not leaners, and wanting to raise the retirement age to 70, he then retires at around 50 with an indexed for life pension of around $190,000 per year, then lands a plum job in the US and collects around another $250,000 a year from taxpayers.

      Assume that a worker, owning his own home retires at 70, and dies at 75. At a fortnightly rate of $776.70, he will cost the taxpayer around $101,000.

      Ignoring Joe Hockey’s current earnings, at a conservative $190,000 per annum and that his cigars take him out at age 75, he will collect around $2.8 million in pension payments.

    • 0

      yes max and he doesn’t even live in australia anymore.
      HOW can that be allowed>>???

  5. 0

    What has happened to casual employment?

    What I mean is, the opportunity to work a half day rather than a full day. Have the unions blocked it, is it too hard to calculate the wages, is it given only to people who don’t declare their income?

    When I look through “part-time employment” they seem to be permanent jobs without the paid leave and when I look at “casual”, they look like permanent jobs where the employer wants to try out new people until they get the the right one. Twenty four hours a week is nearly always 3 full days

    I haven’t seen flexible hours for ages, these would be perfect for highly skilled pensioners who are simply lacking in stamina.

    • 0

      I found that there is a suspicion by employers of people who are prepared to job share or work a shorter week. Most employers equate a request to work a shorter week as a willingness to work no hours at all. To do so is to be labelled as lazy.

    • 0

      I think that the employment culture is changing quite rapidly, most the jobs that have been created recently are part time or casual, if you believe the Bureau of Statistics.
      And this is causing problems in itself where people are being counted as employed yet are not making enough to support themselves.
      The good part about it is it is much easier for employers to sack or take advantage of casual/part time staff. This is the governments idea of flexible work practices.

  6. 0

    Another part of the jigsaw is that when interviewed some people immediately ‘prove’ the stereotype as they claim to be ‘too old to work’, ‘too old to learn new skills’ ‘too old to use cash card machines’ and ‘too old to do any physical exercise’. Understandable if they were ninety but some recent examples were ‘ old fellas of sixty’ talking to the 64 year old journalist. I rarely hear such people refer to ‘me’ or ‘I’ they always speak of ‘we’ and ‘us’ and hecne become representative of all older people.

  7. 0

    The plight of unemployed seniors who are still not old enough to claim the age pension but who can’t get work because of age discrimination (and who all have votes) is a major issue that needs to be addressed urgently. The sad reality is that in the current economic environment anyone over 60 who has been out of work for more than 12 months is unlikely to work again

    Older Australians thrown out of work before reaching pension age with little chance of getting another job are forced to use all their savings and liquify assets just to survive while being constantly hassled by bureaucrats. So by the time they reach pension age they are already impoverished with no reserves for the inevitable emergency.

    There is solution. The “Mature Age Allowance” originally introduced by the Keating Government and removed by the Howard Government. The Mature Age Allowance was paid to those over 60 years of age who have been unemployed and registered for Newstart for at least 12 months

  8. 0

    One of the worst age discrimination practises is the one that forces defined benefit workers to either retire at the contract age or lose tens of thousands of dollars every year.

    Remembering these funds receive contributions after full taxation is paid so there are no tax concessional reasons to belong to one. In fact unfunded schemes even still levy tax on pensions.

    Once these very tricky super funds were wound up the regulations should have changed so that at the retirement age, either 55 or 60 the defined pension stopped and was locked in and the fund member then started an accumulation fund just like everyone else.

    Forcing these workers to retire or lose lots of money was discrimination based on aged.

  9. 0

    All pensioner’s should band together and instigate a class action against This and the former Government for discrimination.

  10. 0

    If you are so concerned about age discrimination then why aren’t you doing something about the discrimination of married couples being treated differently to all other aged pensioners. I worked for over sixty years and paid taxes, medicare levy but when it comes to the aged pension I am treated differently to others , for instance single aged pensioner get $225.00 a fortnight more than me as well as couples living in defacto relationships who claim single aged pension. This has been going on for far to long and I think it is about time that all aged pensioners are treated equally, and I don’t want to hear”BUT TWO CAN LIVE CHEAPER THAN ONE” but this rule does not apply to those couples living in defacto relationships, or two people living in the one home and each getting single aged pension Fed Up _ Max Jackwitz

    • 0

      Cranky, I don’t hear couples on a pension complaining about the poverty line as much as the single pensioner. If they are in a defacto relationship then they are receiving the single pension illegally.
      They are the rules aged 18 or 100.
      But this article is about wanting you back in the workforce. – I think I’ll leave that to Hillary and Donald! Heaven help the USA.

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