Overcoming Age Discrimination

Despite the rhetoric extolling the value of mature age workers, there is much evidence to suggest many older workers are still unfairly disadvantaged in career selection processes. It’s not just unfair, it’s illegal. So what are your rights and how do you fight this discrimination?

Although it may not feel like it should you be the sole applicant aged over 50 in the office of a junior headhunter, sweating over your chances of being hired, there have been major advances in the past few years when it comes to the rights of older workers.

There is no statutory retirement age in Australia. The Age Pension is currently offered to males at age 65 and females aged 55 to 63, depending upon birth year (although this will increase to 67 by 2023). Currently many Australians are retiring at relatively youthful ages – a recent ABS survey states that 76 per cent of men had retired before 63 and 76 per cent of women had retired before the age of 60. The growing recognition of the coming skills shortage has seen many new government initiatives to encourage workers to stay in the workplace. These are an interesting mix of the carrot and the stick. The carrot includes the Pension Bonus Scheme, introduced by the Howard Government in 1998 and effectively closed to new entrants by the Rudd Government in the May 2009 Budget, but still offering cash incentives for those already registered who are working later and thus delaying their access to an Age Pension.

Another important piece of legislation of direct benefit to older workers was quietly introduced late in 2008. This relates to the Age Discrimination Act, ACT 2004 and effectively widens the Act by the removal of the ‘dominant reason’ test. This means that a person need only show that their age was one of the reasons they were discriminated against. This will harmonise the Act with other federal unlawful discrimination laws. It will hopefully also mean that job applicants such as the flight attendant who attended a Virgin Blue airlines interview will no longer have to sing and dance to prove that they can fit in with a youthful workplace culture.

There are many other safeguards for older workers which cover getting a job, terms and conditions, training, promotion, dismissal and redundancy although voluntary work and domestic duties in private households are not as well protected. Fairer legislation is a help, but it can’t change society’s attitudes overnight. It is difficult to redress decades of ageist negativism in the workplace, and so it is helpful for mature workers to arm themselves with some of the following facts (provided by the Department of Business Work Ageing, Swinburne University) before fronting up for an interview or selection process.

Mythbusting

In reality, older workers:

·tAre just as productive as younger workers

·tAre not more costly than younger workers

·tUse experience to offset any decline in cognitive ability

·tAre quite capable of learning new skills

·tPerform just as well as younger workers

·tAre interested in career and self development

·tAre often more flexible than younger workers

·tContribute to a diversified workplace culture

·tDo not necessarily want to retire

Edited extract from What Next? Your career change companion

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