Underemployment of older workers “a waste of human capital”

by Stephanie Zillman07 Jun 2012

A new report was presented to the federal government in Melbourne yesterday, calling for national law reforms to remove age discrimination from the workplace, and demanding structural change to better capitalise on the generation of older workers.

The report, Working past our 60s: Reforming laws and policies for the older worker, was compiled by the Australian Human Rights Commission (HREOC) and presented to Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten (pictured) – who in turn conceded that the landscape of employing older workers needs to change.

The report outlines how structural age barriers to workers’ compensation, income insurance and drivers’ licensing prevent older workers from keeping their jobs or re-entering the workforce. “In most states of Australia you cannot get workers’ compensation entitlements after 65 . . . there is a real leadership role here for the commonwealth," Age Commissioner Susan Ryan said. “We are only now starting to understand what a terrible waste of human capital this situation represents; a loss to the national economy and to businesses large and small, and a loss to the individual who is pushed out of the workforce prematurely,” Ryan added.

Responding to the structural barriers to employment outlined in the report, Shorten said there is no case to cut workers’ compensation at 65, there is no case in fact to deny people income-protection insurance until much later in life, and there is no case about commercial driving licenses being limited on the basis of age. He also announced he would be asking Comcare and the workers’ compensation bodies, which the federal government has responsibility for, to explain why they can't increase the age limits, and to rectify the structural barrier to employing older workers.

Yet for some national bodies, the report is nothing new. National Seniors Australia chief executive Michael O'Neill said it was time for the commonwealth to stop producing reports, lead by example and get on with introducing practical change. “The issues in today's report – age limits on workers’ compensation, insurance and professional licensing – are the issues we were talking about a decade ago,” he said. “It's all starting to feel like Groundhog Day. Australians are ageing differently now – we're healthier and stronger than ever before, and many of us enjoy and want to keep working well beyond 65,” he added.

Key figures from the report included:

  • The average retirement age for men and women has hovered around 50 for women and 60 for men. These ages will have to shift upwards if we are to maintain a functioning workplace and economy.
  • In the year to June 2010, 71% of Australians aged 55-59 years were participating in the labour market. These rates drop to 51% for people in the 60-64 age group and to 24% for people aged 65 to 69. The number of people who continue to work beyond the age of 70 is comparatively low, ranging between 2.7% and 4.5% since the 1980s.
  • In 2011, the average age at which people intended to retire was 62.9 years (63.5 years for men and 62.0 years for women). Yet the data also shows we leave the workforce earlier than we estimate or intend.
  • In the year to June 2010, there were on average 58,100 people aged 55 years and over who were unemployed. During this period, 46% of unemployed older people had been looking for work for six months or more, compared with 32% of those aged less than 55 years. 
  • Of those older underemployed workers who had actively looked for work with more hours in September 2009, 20% cited 'being considered too old by employers' as their main difficulty.


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  • by Shane Higgins 8/06/2012 9:50:25 AM

    At www.olderworkers.com.au we have over 17,500 jobseekers over the age of 45 keen to find employment and the experience and skills many of them have is enormous. Employers and companies that are not including older workers in their recruitment strategies are losing out on mentoring skills, life skills, reliability and dependability to mention a few. It makes absolutely no sense for any organisation to exclude a potential employee because of age if they can do the job.

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