Age discrimination commonplace

AGE DISCRIMINATION is rife in the workforce and requires legislative as well as attitudinal changes in Australian society, according to the Federal Human Rights Commissioner Sev Ozdowki

AGE DISCRIMINATION is rife in the workforce and requires legislative as well as attitudinal changes in Australian society, according to the Federal Human Rights Commissioner Sev Ozdowki.

Commenting on the Federal Government’s recent plans to keep older people in the workforce, Ozdowki stressed the need to also address the ubiquitous issue of age discrimination.

“The real problem is people over 45 not being able to find a job or get back into the workforce because they are being discriminated against due to their age.

“General negative-based stereotypes and assumptions about older people’s fitness, ability, skill and adaptability affect their opportunities in recruitment, promotion, training and retirement choices,” he said.

It is predicted by 2051 that more than one in four Australians will be older than the age of 65. Older workers, especially men in their 50s, also currently form a disproportionately high percentage of the long-term unemployed, he said.

“Age discrimination is a peculiar form of prejudice in that unless it is addressed at systematic and practical level, in time, the discriminators will soon become the discriminated against – making it a vicious circle of discrimination.”

Recruitment and Consulting Services Association (RCSA) president John Plummer acknowledged that the ageing workforce was an issue, but said it was a two-edged sword.

“The barriers to the successful implementation of initiatives around employing aged workers are really in the psyche of the employers,” he said.

“In our experience, employers have no problem with aged workers and are quite happy to hire them, but they just need to understand what their skills are and how they can be matched into their organisation. That does require some education.”

Plummer downplayed criticisms that the recruitment industry was averse to employing older workers. “Obviously I’ve heard the criticism, but in many cases it’s unfounded,” he said.

“Usually what happens with a recruitment agency is that they’re provided with a job spec from a client that requires certain duties, skills and experience at a certain rate of pay.

“The issue often is that the older worker is not willing to accept maybe some but not all of those conditions. The rate of pay is probably the most difficult issue for the older worker.”

Plummer said issues around what they felt was reasonable and dignified were often sticking points for older workers, given that they had usually been in the workforce for many years earning considerable salaries.

“Australia is based on a system of rewarding people for the work that they do, and not necessarily for the length of service that they’ve been in the organisation. There is respect for that, but there also has to be some tradeoff with the skills that are being demanded of the role,” he said.

“There is also some education required of workers in, let’s say the twilight of their career, that they’re not going to be compensated and rewarded at the same level as they were at the peak of their career, especially given the competition for their roles.”

The ACTU acknowledged that some employers were making an effort to employ older workers, but said age discrimination is still a big problem and employers should be urged to make more of an effort.

“Mature age workers need a fair go from employers, rather than being starved into working until they drop,” said ACTU president Sharan Burrow.

“Mature age Australians are being locked out of the workforce by employer discrimination and because the government is not supporting them to develop new skills and to retrain for the jobs that are available today.

The Federal Government should provide greater employee choice and real flexibility for mature age Australians through education campaigns to change attitudes on the abilities of older workers amongst employers, and provide guidance about retraining needs and options and improved employment services, Burrow added.

Recent articles & video

PTO requests up 9% year-over-year in April worldwide

Company ‘clones’ employees using AI

ACTU wants right to disconnect in all modern awards

Victoria wants new law to protect frontline employees

Most Read Articles

Queensland resolves dispute on long service leave entitlements

'Confused' worker tries to clarify ‘unclear’ dismissal date

How HR can prepare for new industrial relations regulations