Ageism in the Workplace

MALVESTIDA MAGAZINE – UNSPLASH

Ageism in the Workplace has been an ongoing topic for discussion for some time in the media and has formed the basis for many studies on this concerning issue.

Australia has an aging population, government was keen to raise the age for the entitlement to the pension to 70, however backlash on the issue quashed the original plan, with the age of entitlement now 66, and will move to 67 by July 2023. 

This identified a huge gap in real understanding between what is currently going on in workplaces across the country and what government is doing to close this gap and address the issue.

HOW ARE WORKPLACES CHANGING?

We are in an environment where permanent stable employment is rare, being replaced by casual, contract or labour hire work.  Many workers in their 50’s are finding themselves being replaced by younger workers.  A report released in 2018 by the Human Rights Commission found nearly seven out of ten organisations participating in a survey (68 per cent) see 50 years of age or older as the age at which they are unwilling to recruit workers, despite acknowledging the experience and knowledge they bring to the organisation.  By the age of 50, workers still have 16 years before they are entitled to the pension.

WHAT ARE WORKERS TELLING US?

Companies are laying off older workers for a number of reasons.  Depending on the industry younger workers are cheaper to employ, some older workers are told they are no longer suitable for the job as they can no longer do the work that younger workers can do, such as manual labour.  Others feel that they have been laid off as they are deemed ‘out of touch’ with new ideas, skills, technology and working arrangements.  We know that in some industries, such as manufacturing, where workers have been employed in the same company for generations, manufacturing has been offshored. 

FINANCIAL HARDSHIP AND DYNAMICS

Traditional households in this age bracket are usually made up of primary and secondary earners, with the man being the primary earner and the woman being the secondary earner.  When the primary earner finds themselves unemployed, this puts great financial stress on a family. 

Where the primary earner may be out of employment, the secondary earner is unlikely to move into higher paying work after a number of years in the same position.  In a report prepared for the 2019-2020 Annual Wage Review, 35% of award workers are in low paid employment.  Women consisted of more than 55% of low paid award workers.  After three years, low paid workers are 27 per cent less likely to move into higher paying work, after six years this increases to 48 per cent.

According to the report, workers aged over 50 are less likely to move out of low paid employment or for it to be a “temporary condition before progressing in their career”.  In the current environment, statistics on how many over 50s are “progressing in their career” and defining a “temporary condition” would make an interesting study.

The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey data between 2008 to 2018 found that workers with a low education, with long term health conditions and those on welfare payments find it hard to advance, find work and some are leaving the workforce.

ADDRESSING THE ISSUE

These surveys and reports provide recommendations on how policy can assist workers to remain and achieve higher outcomes in the workforce. 

They suggest policy needs to focus on helping older workers by assisting with training to re-enter the workforce, provide additional support for those with a low education, those who suffer from long term health conditions or receive welfare payments to achieve higher incomes and stay in the workforce longer.  Not only does education provide the opportunity to re-enter the workforce, but it significantly improves the likelihood of transitioning to higher paying work between 44 per cent and 117 per cent.

While these recommendations are applauded, not only should policy target workers, but also employers.  As discussed in this article, it has been identified that employers understand the importance of experienced older workers, yet they are unwilling to employ them.  Employers need to break stereotypes of age and career paths, understanding that workers want and need more flexibility in the way they move in and out of the workforce. 

In the 2015 Intergenerational Report, it was identified that by 2054-55 the number of Australians aged 65 and over is projected to more than double.  There will come a time when employers will need to embrace the older worker and change their way of thinking. 

WHAT IS THE GOVERNMENT DOING?

Workers who find themselves unemployed and have no alternative income are entitled to government benefits under Newstart.  Newstart provides little training for those who need to move into a new industry later in their working life and is particularly difficult to navigate for those who are not technically savvy.  Those on Newstart are reliant on their job provider to assist them in finding suitable employment and support.

The government has developed two specific programs to assist older workers: 

  • Restart is an incentive aimed at employers, a 12 month wage subsidy program to employ workers 50 years and over.
  • Skills Checkpoint for Older Workers Program provides older workers with the opportunity to engage with a provider to assist them with upskilling in their current occupation.  The program excludes those receiving government benefits.

What we aren’t seeing through government programs is the scope to address both short and long term concerns.  The Policy and supports discussed in this article are not appropriately covered by these incentives.  There is not enough communication to employers and the community other than what is being covered by the Media, which is not enough to address this ongoing issue.

Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation. This article has been prepared by Vanessa Baglieri, Marketing Manager. The information provided should not be relied upon as legal advice. You should speak with Rosa Raco directly about your specific circumstances via email rraco@wrlaw.com.au or phone 03 54996131.