Thursday, 18 October 2018
Mature Age Workers
I'm pleased that in this place this week we are talking about preventing discrimination. I hope that we continue to talk about preventing discrimination wherever we find it and have a real conversation about all the costs of exclusion in our society and our economy—those which connect to individuals and those which hurt and diminish all of us.
I want to talk particularly about age discrimination. I want to talk about Peter, a constituent of mine, who has visited me on a few occasions to discuss his experience of age discrimination in employment. He's in his 60s, some way away from being eligible to receive the age pension. He was made redundant by his former employer and had 18 months before he was eligible to commence receiving Newstart. He spent great amounts of time and energy looking for work and now feels like giving up on that challenge. He tells me his struggle is undoubtedly due to age discrimination. I believe him, because I see plenty of others in exactly his circumstances. He says—and I believe him—that many employers have a poor attitude towards employing older Australians and worry about issues that are exaggerations, stereotypes or myths—like rates of work cover claims, or that older employees will only work in the job for a short period of time and aren't worth the investment.
Not long after I met with Peter recently, ABC's 7.30 report spoke of the fastest growing cohort of people receiving Newstart payments—those over 55 years old. One of the people interviewed in the story said something to Liz that I think sets out the problem experienced by many older Australians. They said:
I know I've got a lot to offer, I've got a lot of skills and I've worked for a long time, but I think people just think, 'She'll be wanting to retire in a couple of years' time, so it's not worth taking her on'.
This anecdotal evidence is backed up by studies and research, including the report Willing to work by the Australian Human Rights Commission, produced two years ago. Amongst the findings include the statistics that the average duration of unemployment for those 55 and over was 68 weeks, compared to 49 weeks for 25- to 54-year-olds and to 30 weeks for those who were younger. This is happening as the percentage of the population over 55 is growing, of course.
We mustn't forget the social costs that come with age discrimination and the denial of opportunities to work and participate economically. They are many, but some of the most frequently cited include: impacts on independence, sense of purpose, social connectedness as well as dignity. In addition, there are health impacts, financial consequences, impacts on family and impacts on the networks that older Australians may find themselves becoming ever more reliant on. When an employer turns away a prospective employee who is an older Australian, they're missing out on what are often great credentials: a work history, qualifications, a commitment to the job and to work. People like Peter don't want to give up on finding work. They're looking all over the place to get an opportunity to show how much they have to give to our workforce and to our society. They deserve a better deal.