Ageism rife in SA as employers turn blind eye to older workers trying to stay in or re-enter workplace

May 21, 2016

AGEISM is rampant in South Australia as employers consistently turn a blind eye to older workers trying to stay in, or re-enter, the workplace.

Experts say the discrimination is causing immense social, financial and health damage — in a state where about 25 per cent of the population is over 55.

The problems facing older people in the workforce were among the key issues to come out of a Sunday Mailspecial investigation into the state’s ageing population.

Anne Burgess, the Commissioner for Equal Opportunity SA, said examples of discrimination in the workforce were rife, including:

GIUSEPPE, a 67-year-old long-time IT company worker, being told: “You won’t be around much longer anyway.”

HOWARD, also 67, who has worked for a food industry company for 18 years. The company is trying to retire him on age grounds alone. He refused and his contract was changed from permanent to casual. This year he has been offered no pay rise when all employees under 65 have.

KENNETH, 74, who holds a general builder’s licence. A client is refusing to pay the full bill for a job, saying someone of his age would be a handyman only.

Ms Burgess said older people were telling her office that as they aged, they didn’t feel valued in the workplace.

“There is a case of a paternal feeling coming from some employers, it’s not really valuing older people. It’s very patronising,” she said.

“The worst cases are people aged over 45 who lose their jobs; they tell me they make application after application and as soon as they don’t put their birthdays down, they get an interview. There is not a short-term fix with age discrimination. It’s about people being more proactive about what skills they need.”

Federal Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan said too many older people did not enjoy the right to work.

She said the over-55s accounted for just 16 per cent of the workforce, and just 12.7 per cent of over-65s still worked.

“This sharp decline cannot be allowed to continue,” Ms Ryan said. “The number of over 65s will double by 2055 when life expectancy will be well over 90.”

Ms Ryan, who last month released a major report into workplace discrimination, said a 7 per cent increase in mature-age labour force participation would raise Australia’s GDP by about $25 billion within six years.

“We must ensure skilled older workers in sectors that are shrinking, such as car manufacturing or coal mining, are not forced into long-term unemployment. Access to effective skills training that will lead them into growth sectors is key,” she said.

She suggested mature-age apprenticeships could form a part of SA’s future shipbuilding and submarine jobs boom.

Council of the Ageing SA chief executive Jane Mussared agreed that older workers needed to be seen as an asset to employers.

“It’s a big community question; we need to challenge employers upfront and employ the same tactics the gender battle uses,” Ms Mussared said.

“Employers need to understand the mature workforce, what skill sets they offer. Australia needs a workforce that continues to adapt.”

Finding a way past old-fashioned attitudes, and employers who can be subtle in their contempt of older staff, was an immense task, Ms Mussared said.

“Blatant discrimination doesn’t always happen — it’s saying that they are over-qualified or recruiters not putting you forward when they tell you they are,” she said. But she warned that “in challenging it, you can gain a reputation as a troublemaker”, adding: “It’s difficult to deal with.”

Greg Goudie, chief executive of Dome (SA), a state-funded employment and training organisation for mature-age people, conducted a study last month of 500 unemployed people aged over 40.

“Fifty-six per cent felt they had been discriminated againstbecause of their age. Only 6 per cent found gender discrimination,” he said.

“We have made great strides around gender and race discrimination, but there is a lot more work to be done in age discrimination.”

Members of a Sunday Mail roundtable discussion agreed a lack of employment options was a major issue facing the state’s maturing population.

The roundtable of four retirees, aged in their 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, agreed that volunteering, a traditional stepping stone into the workforce, did not necessarily pave the way back into the workforce for older jobseekers.

Penelope McMillan, 59, of Para Hills, said most employers had a “younger demographic” in mind when hiring.

“The older workers I know tend to be employed by the same, small number of employers,” she said.

Source: The Advertiser

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