Superannuation and other barriers to older people working need to go

The issue of how to take advantage of the skills and experience of older workers is becoming more important as baby boomers age and leave the workforce. All that experience “walking out the door” is a loss for any business. And many older people simply don’t want to retire at the age of 65 (or earlier).

SMEs in particular don’t need barriers raised to them employing mature age workers; after all, many of them are family businesses that highly value the input of older more experienced family members.

The federal government recently launched the Australian Law Reform Commission’s report, Access All Ages – Older Workers and Commonwealth Laws. In the report, the commission identifies legal barriers to older persons participating in the workforce and made recommendations across superannuation, social security, employment, insurance and compensation law. Several recommendations were to the effect that the social security and superannuation systems should not discourage or prevent workforce participation.

ALRC president Professor Rosalind Croucher said the recommendations had been developed in the light of six interlinking principles – participation, independence, self-agency, system stability, system coherence, and fairness – that assisted in balancing a range of competing priorities. The ALRC suggests a combination of legislative and regulatory reform is needed, together with measures to increase education and awareness and address perceptions and stereotypes surrounding mature age workers.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus acknowledged there were “enormous opportunities” that come with an ageing population, including a more experienced workforce and the availability of mentors for younger workers. If laws need to be changed to take advantage of those opportunities, then many would argue that should be done.

Employment Minister Bill Shorten noted the government has also abolished the Super Guarantee maximum age limit, enabling employees aged 70 and over to contribute to their retirement savings for the first time. He said the government would consider the recommendations made.

The government says that for more than five million baby boomers, there’s a realistic chance of 20-30 years of life after work, but it said around 60% want to keep working beyond 65 for a range of reasons, with most preferring a phased withdrawal from the workforce. No doubt many SMEs would agree.

In its 36 recommendations, the report recommended:

  • the work test for superannuation be reviewed;
  • the legislation that provides for government co-contributions to be payable only for people aged under 71 years should be repealed;
  • the Government review the “Transition to Retirement” rules. The report said the review should determine what changes, if any, are required to ensure the rules meet their policy objective. Among issues for review would be the relationship to the concessional superannuation contributions cap;
  • mature age workers be provided with longer periods of notice for termination of employment;
  • the Australian Human Rights Commission should, in consultation with key insurance and superannuation bodies, develop guidance material about the application of any insurance exception as it applies to age under Commonwealth anti-discrimination legislation; and
  • the Guide to Social Security Law should be amended to provide that undertaking paid work for fewer than 30 hours per week will not trigger a review of qualification for Disability Support Pension.

The other recommendations in the report are specific strategies in the implementation of a national plan, designed to provide:

  • a coordinated policy response to enable mature age workforce participation;
  • consistency across Commonwealth laws and between Commonwealth and state and territory laws to support mature age workforce participation;
  • a reduction in age discrimination;
  • a greater awareness of mature age workers’ rights and entitlements;
  • support for maintaining attachment to the workforce for mature age persons;
  • work environments, practices and processes that are appropriate for mature age workers.

The value for a business in harnessing the skills and experience of an older worker is obvious. It’s a shame that over the years, too many obstacles have been put (mostly unintentionally) in the way of that.

The age-old idea of an older worker moving on to make way for younger people is not of itself unreasonable, but that doesn’t mean that “older head” is no longer useful – quite the reverse. Perhaps this latest report will spur some concrete action on the part of governments to rectify this. SMEs could be a winner from such action.

Terry Hayes is the Editor-in-Chief of tax news reporting at Thomson Reuters, a leading Australian provider of tax, accounting and legal information solutions.

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