Age discrimination is occurring at an alarming rate in Australian organisations, new government research has found.
The Employing Older Workers report, overseen by the Australian Human Rights Commission, found almost a third of Australian employers continue to specify an age limit for job applicants, despite the practice being illegal.
Moreover, 30% of those employers will not employ people over 50, despite two-thirds acknowledging this protocol has lost the business valuable skills and intellectual property.
“At age 50 many workers are still optimising what they have to offer employers after several decades of honing skills,” said Ian Yates, chief executive of COTA Australia, the leading national advocate for older Australians.
“The report shows employers recognise the value an experienced older works brings (76%) and the professional knowledge they possess (68%), and more respondents across all categories said there was no difference between the generations at work, with a 14% increase in people indicating no difference between older and younger workers in 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 the job – and this is all illegal under the Age Discrimination Act – who is letting them off the hook?”
Because of this discrimination, older Australians are being forced to take out unemployment benefits and are haemorrhaging their savings before retirement.
For women who are subjected to a life-long gender pay gap, as well as diminished superannuation, age discrimination in the workplace hits particularly hard.
A 2017 Women’s Agenda report examining women’s ambitions showed a high volume of women reporting age discrimination holds them back from achieving what they want in their careers, despite the fact they feel more ready than ever to take on new challenges.
It’s a crisis, when 34% of the population is being dismissed arbitrarily, and a huge wealth of knowledge is being lost as a result.
Yates says the new research should give the government the impetus to bolster programs announced in the May budget to increase workplace participation for older Australians.
“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,” Yates said.
“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.
“We need programs that incentivise employment of older workers, support their retraining and encourage flexible career development, and a government that is also prepared to punish employers who act illegally against federal law and international conventions.
“Let’s not pussyfoot around — it’s illegal to discriminate against employees on the basis of their age but the government is letting a third of Australia’s employers do it without sanction — and we suspect some of those employers are government agencies. It’s time to stop the rot and change the culture.”