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Review Underway of Workforce Limitations on Older Australians

14 March 2012 at 11:21 am
Staff Reporter
A review of Commonwealth legislation and policies that prevent older people from participating in the workforce or other productive work has started in Canberra.

Staff Reporter | 14 March 2012 at 11:21 am


Review Underway of Workforce Limitations on Older Australians
14 March 2012 at 11:21 am

A review of Commonwealth legislation and policies that prevent older people from participating in the workforce or other productive work has started in Canberra.

The inquiry, being undertaken by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC), will review obstacles faced by older persons in actively participating in the workforce, and the desirability of reviewing Commonwealth laws to remove any limitations, according to the terms of reference.

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said that older Australians have much to offer the workforce.

“This review will look at how we can best utilise their expertise, enthusiasm and energy,” Roxon said.

“The ALRC will consider all relevant Commonwealth legislative that either directly or indirectly imposes limitations on older persons from participating including superannuation, employment, insurance, compensation and social security law.”

Roxon said that the review will contribute to meeting the Government’s commitment within Australia’s Human Rights Framework to review existing legislation for consistency with Australia’s human rights obligations.

The inquiry will be led by ALRC President, Professor Rosalind Croucher and assisted by Australia’s first Age Discrimination Commissioner, Susan Ryan. Ryan was appointed to the ALRC as a part-time Commissioner in July 2011.

The inquiry formally commenced on March 12, 2012 and the Commission is due to finalise a report within 12 months.

“Age discrimination has a significant social impact on older people so I look forward to this review providing recommendations on how we can support older Australians to continue participating in society,” Roxon said.  

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One comment

  • Russell Pollard says:

    This inquiry is clearly overdue. Since way back when Paul Keating quipped about unemployable over 45’s there has been a crying need to get real about the exclusion of so many citizens from workforce participation. Of course it needs to look at the ageism suffered by older Australians in the workplace, but even more importantly it needs to lift the lid on the appalling fate of people over 45 who have left a job for whatever reason, only to find that they have not got a hope in hell of ever getting another one.

    There is no sensible Newstart, no real retraining and absolutely no recognition of prior learning by TAFES and universities keen to extract as many dollars from training programs as possible. Such a waste of real talent. A condition warned about by the first chair of the Schools Commission, Peter Carmel, and one which has become the grim reality of life for many people over 45.

    Along with charting the extent of the problem it will be necessary to examine very closely those things we might call discriminators. There are plenty of contenders. Most look innocuous enough but are otherwise when examined openly. For example, take the notion of “volunteerism”.

    Let me explain. I was a school principal and a held various key roles in curriculum development and dissemination in the 1980’s and 1990’s. I loved teaching and while I may not have been the world’s best teacher, there were few with more enthusiasm about curriculum possibilities or commitment to helping children enjoy their time at school.

    I left to work for 14 years as a CEO in the not for profit sector . . . but through deep involvement in school programs, and from being surrounded by countless friends and family still teaching, I managed to keep abreast of curriculum arrangements in schools. Trying to return to teaching has been a heartbreakingly impossible task where the decisions of schools to always employ younger, generally less qualified and less experienced applicants is the utterly unchallengeable and unexamined par for the course. As a very occasional relief teacher, and I’m lucky to get one or two days a term, I have been treated with contempt in some schools . . . but what I have found most outrageous is when older volunteer ex-teachers whom I’ve met in schools, cashed up and bored, with superannuated salaries for life, suggest that if I still like teaching at my age, which is 62, I should think about volunteering around schools.

    The fact that I do not have superannuation while they do – and as a 62 year old I am far from alone in this situation – is just lost on them. I need to work to eat, to keep my private health insurance and to pay my mortgage. What a liberty to look at older people and think only in terms of what they can contribute as volunteers. This may be an unpopular notion but I can only wonder what would happen if young cashed up teachers in their 20’s took jobs from teachers in their 20’s looking for paid work as teachers . . . would it be even remotely tolerated? Of course it wouldn’t be.

    The obscenity of the assumptions made by people both younger and older than me about people who have left work after 45-50, that we must not be allowed back in unless we know someone or only when all else fails, is real and has caused me and many others to lose a good deal of faith in a system to which we have all contributed significantly and positively.

    “Volunteerism” is a good thing, a noble and helpful thing, but when it pushes employment options out the door and adds to the false picture that older Australians don’t do paid work, it is simply evil. An evil that is perpetuated when older people turn to CentreLink for assistance in seeking work. The first option is to give up on any real work search, get into volunteering and live on the unlivable amount that is the unemployment benefit until the pension kicks in. This is evil, demeaning and enough to make many of us use up whatever nest eggs we might have before we go anywhere near an organization as patronizing and ageist as CentreLink

    Evil may seem harsh but the truth is that being out of work and over 45 is rapidly becoming more than a malaise in fair and effective workplace planning. It is rapidly becoming a new and quite pervasive disability.

    I will certainly look forward to submitting to this review and congratulate Nicola Roxon for having the insight to get it up and running. She has a history of starting innovative things, of expanding possibilities in people’s lives, but has fallen short more than once when her efforts have allowed entrenched power groups to basically continue to dominate situations where they are in fact essentially a massive part of the problem – as in the ridiculously limited groups of self-serving professional bodies who have been the gatekeepers for mental health support for most of the last century and who continue to be after all her efforts to open the field to include where people actually turn in times of crisis. Let’s hope she follows through on the truly reforming possibilities of this review. To do less will risk setting older Australians even further onto the back foot.

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