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Ageism: alive and well among Australian employers

Despite the growing need and ability by older Australians to remain active and engaged in the nation’s workforce, a new Government survey is suggesting that ageism is still alive and well among the nation’s employers.

 A new Government survey is suggesting that ageism is still alive and well among the Australian employers (Source: Shutterstock)
A new Government survey is suggesting that ageism is still alive and well among the Australian employers (Source: Shutterstock)

Recently released by the Australian Human Rights Commission, the Employing Older Workers report found that almost a third of Australian employers break the law by setting an age limit for job applicants, not employing people over 50.

The survey findings have shocked many, with older persons advocacy peak Council on the Ageing (COTA) speaking out on the issue and highlighting how the report demonstrates “how much effort is still required to fight ageism in the workplace”.

COTA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Ian Yates says while the report does show improvement since 2014’s survey, the findings are still an indictment of far too many employers.

“While there has been an improvement over the last four years, it’s scandalous that 1 in 3 employers discriminate on the basis of age, which is not only agesit and prejudiced, it’s illegal,” Mr Yates reiterates.

“The report shows that employers recognise the value of the experience older workers bring (76 percent) and the professional knowledge they possess (68 percent), and more respondents across all categories said there was no difference between the generations at work, with a 14 percent increase in people indicating no difference between older and younger workers on technology skills and abilities.

“Despite this, tens of thousands of mature, well-qualified Australians are still being ruled out on the basis of their age, before they even have the chance to demonstrate they have the skills, experience and ability to do the job.”

Mr Yates says this means that people over 50 are either being forced onto Newstart unemployment benefit or going into poverty as they erode their lifetime savings, because the system is stacked against them.

Campaign Director, Older Australians with the Benevolent Society, Marlene Krasovitsky, says we all have stories of someone who is older in our lives who are running down their savings and superannuation because of the inability to get back into the workforce.

“Ageism is so much part of social norms it can be hard to identify it as discriminatory,” she explains.

“Using phrases like ‘having a senior’s moment’, or ‘over the hill’, or buying cards that say ‘sorry you’re another year older’... it's all part of it.

“We hear from people that ageism is present in much of their daily lives, particularly in the workplace with the most common stereotypes being that older employees are forgetful, slow, more likely to get sick and injured, not able to learn new things and are not good with technology.

“The research is there that shows people are experiencing discrimination in the workplace and when applying for a job, resulting in some giving up looking, which has an enormous impact on individual lives but also the economy.

“This has been highlighted many times, and this particular survey is just another piece to that puzzle.”

Ms Krasovitsky says now is the time to “shine the light” on ageism.

“Our views of ageing are based on outdated ideas about what it means to grow older - we haven’t caught up with the reality of our lives now where we need, and are expected to, contribute in the workforce and community for longer.

“We would be crazy not to address this issue urgently - the demographics are changing and the population is ageing and not just in Australia built across the world.

“It is in everyone's best interests to ensure that older people are engages, able to contribute, are respected, valued and be treated with dignity.

“I don’t think people realise the irony in ageism - we are all ageing so when we are ageist, we are setting ourselves up for future prejudice.”

Mr Yates also highlighted this shortsightedness saying: “on these figures Prime Minister Scott Morrison will be struggling to find an employer to take him on if he loses the next Federal election - the odds are they won’t want him because he’s over 50.”

The COTA CEO adds that the report reinforces the imperative for the Government to further “beef up” the programs it announced in the May Budget to increase workplace participation for older Australians.

“Australia’s population is ageing, which means we are living longer, we are healthier for longer and we can contribute to the workforce longer… however too many employers write us off in our prime,” he says.

“Governments have acknowledged the value older Australians can provide to the workforce, and the economic value of increasing workforce participation amongst older Australians.

“We need programs that incentivize employment of older workers, support their training and encourage flexible career development, and a Government that is also prepared to punish employers who act illegally against  Federal law and international conventions.”

Ms Krasovitsky and the Benevolent Society have recently launched their EveryAGE Counts initiative which is all about combating ageism in Australia. 

“Our campaign shows that there are a range of things people can do to challenge ageism, and we would love people to take the pledge to take a stance against it,” she says.

“We really want to encourage people to get on board, connect and build a movement in Australia challenging ageism, shifting the language and the overall narrative about what it means to get older.”

The full Employing Older Workers report is available to view or download online.

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