Too many Australian companies unwilling to employ older workers, says Age Discrimination Commissioner

Too many Australian companies are “unwilling to hire people over 50”, according to Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan.

Ryan told Fairfax this week that raising the retirement age in Australia to 70, a move flagged by Treasurer Joe Hockey earlier this month, will fail if greater efforts are not made to stamp out age discrimination in Australian workplaces.

“At the same time, people in their 50s who are employed frequently find themselves being forced out,” said Ryan.

Ryan said research conducted by her office has found one in 10 Australian businesses admit to having an age cut-off when recruiting new workers, with the average cut-off age being 50.

Ryan also told Fairfax nearly 60% of age discrimination complaints received by the Human Rights Commission during 2012-13 related to employment matters.

“We need to stop treating vast sections of our population as though inability, low commitment, and uselessness automatically kick in at a certain age,” said Ryan. “This doesn’t happen.”

Council of Small Business of Australia executive director Peter Strong told SmartCompany he has never come across a small or medium-sized business with a deliberate policy of not employing individuals over a certain age.

In fact, Strong says, he knows of companies operating in the finance, transport and hospitality industries that deliberately hire older staff who can add experience and maturity to their companies.

In finance, older workers often bring a deeper level of understanding to their roles compared to young workers, while pub operators in rural areas feel that older bar staff have extra skills in dealing with rowdy customers.

Strong says many SME owners also fall into the ‘older worker’ category and therefore often have a greater level of understanding of the challenges facing older employees.

In the end it comes down to an employee’s “capacity to do the job”, says Strong. “Small business owners are just like everyone else – they judge on what they see. Someone can be in their 70s and be fit and healthy, but someone else can be in their 50s and really struggling.”


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