Discrimination against older workers will cut economic growth and strain resources, institute warns
AM By Brett Worthington
Australia is at risk of a pension crisis unless employers stop their “discrimination” against older workers, advocates for regional Australia have warned.
The Regional Australia Institute (RAI) has warned the Federal Government’s pension bill would rise from $45 billion to $51 billion within three years, unless efforts were made to help more mature workers gain employment, particularly in regional communities.
Chief executive Jack Archer said continued unemployment of people older than 55 would cut economic growth and put a greater strain on public resources.
“We hear that there is a lot of people who would like to work, who would love to stay in the workforce either part-time or full-time even though they’re in their late 50s, 60s and even into their 70s,” he said.
“But we’re not doing a very good job of giving them the training, giving them the incentives around the pension, and working with employers to stop the discrimination around employing older workers.”
Ageing demographic in regional areas
The RAI has today released a report that outlines the economic benefits of hiring older workers, which it said would help accelerate economic growth in regional communities.
These communities are ageing at faster rates than metropolitan areas.
Mr Archer said the ageing regional demographic was partly the result of people shifting away from cities when they retired.
He said Victor Harbour in South Australia, Port Macquarie-Hastings in NSW, and East Gippsland in Victoria all had at least 20 per cent of the population reliant on the aged pension.
“It basically means you’ve got a lot of talent on the bench, a lot of people who could be involved and contributing who are sitting around homes and wishing they were doing something else,” he said.
“The social benefits of [tackling] this [will be] enormous in these regions where the impact is severe now.”
Getting older people into work
The report calls for a variety of approaches to getting more older Australians into work.
“For regions with low participation rates like the Bass Coast in Victoria or the Lockyer Valley in Queensland, the focus will be to increase workforce engagement in general,” the report stated.
“For those with high participation rates but also a high incidence of part-time employment like Augusta-Margaret River WA and Busselton WA, the policy focus will need to be more targeted towards addressing underemployment.”
The report also suggested part-time work could not only keep older people employed for longer, but it could help lure others back into work.
“As Australians approach retirement age, the opportunity for more flexible working arrangements opens up new opportunities for older Australians who want to stay engaged in the workforce, but scale down at the same time,” the report stated.
“For many, the inability to scale down to a part-time role often means having to drop out of the workforce completely.”
No luck after 150 job applications
Wagga Wagga man Peter Sweeney took a voluntary redundancy from the public sector five years ago.
The 66-year-old said when he attempted to return to employment, he was unable to secure an interview, let alone a job.
“Not everybody is ready to lay down and die,” he said.
Mr Sweeney said he applied for at least 150 jobs before he gave up his hunt.
“I had strong analytical skills, excellent communication skills — written and verbal — and investigation skills,” he said.
“I would have said they would have all been very current. I was able to cope with the applications on the internet.
“There is no doubt in my mind that my age was the thing that kept coming up.
Mr Sweeney said he became involved in a men’s shed group, where he discovered other people had been through a similar experience.
He took his superannuation as a pension and was now entitled to receive a partial aged pension.
“People have told me that they don’t like putting older people on because they’re too set in their ways,” he said.
“Their skill levels are out of date, they can’t take instruction from younger people and they’re generally too tired.
“They want young people. They want people they can socialise with, whereas the oldies are interested in different things.
“The ones that do employ seniors do it for that reason — they don’t want to mess around with a lot of people who have got too busy social lives and can’t come to work on Monday.”
Economic benefit from employing older workers
Mr Archer said as the population aged the workforce shrank, and that risked future economic growth.
But he said that could be reversed provided employers embraced an older workforce.
“In some regions we can see an extra $30 to $40 million of annual consumption in the local area as a result of lifting participation of older workers by 2 or 3 per cent,” he said.
“That then flows on to other jobs in the community.
“What that tells us is if you get the right mix of incentives, you can really have a significant impact on local economies.
“[When] those people are earning [an income], their pension bills will either disappear or be much lower and the government will get a benefit from that.”
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