By Yasmin Noone
More than 35 per cent of jobseekers aged 55 and over, who are willing and able to start work almost immediately, have given up the hunt because employers think they are too old, according to a new Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) report.
The ABS report, Persons Not in the Labour Force, Australia, showed that there were over 50, 700 discouraged job seekers aged over 55, nationwide, in September 2011.
This figure comprises more than half the total number of Australian jobseekers who wanted to work but had given up because they thought they could not get a job.
Around 36 per cent of discouraged job seekers reported their main reason for giving up looking for work was that they were 'considered too old by employers', while 16 per cent said that they lacked 'lacked necessary skills, training or experience'.
National Seniors Australia’s chief executive, Michael O’Neill, said the report proves that older workers are the most marginalised group of people looking for work.
“This report shows that a significant number of older Australians are wanting to stay attached to the workforce but are being shown the door time and time again,’’ Mr O’Neill said.
“Australian society can no longer ignore that older workers are facing discrimination based on their age.
“Furthermore, almost a third (32 per cent) of those discouraged job seekers were aged 65 and over, and in fact, 18 per cent were aged 70-plus.
“And the reason for this is crystal clear: they believe that employers considered them to be too old.”
Mr O’Neill said the experience of age discrimination and unemployment together financially impacts upon older workers, forcing the individual to compromise their potential retirement savings.
“This is the time when [the over-55] should be maximising their superannuation and retirement savings. But they are missing out on that opportunity.
“In the long-run it means that people’s retirement plans and retirement intentions are impacted so they will need to revise them.”
The ABS also reported that a total of almost 6 million people, or a third (33 per cent) of all Australians aged 15 years or over, is not in the labour force. Over half (52 per cent) of people not in the labour force were aged 60 years or over. Nearly two-thirds (60 per cent) were women.
The total number of discouraged job seekers – those who can work but gave up looking because they thought they could not get a job – decreased in 2011, down from 102,000 in 2010 after a peak of 111,800 workers in 2009.
A study released earlier this month from the Australian Human Resources Institute entitled, Mature Age Workforce Participation, also suggests the existence of age discrimination against older workers.
The survey of more than 1,200 human resource (HR) practitioners found that approximately one-third of respondents (35 per cent) believe their organisation is biased to some extent against the employment of older workers.
Nearly two-thirds of respondents (61 per cent) oppose the idea of the government raising the retirement age to retain greater numbers of older workers.
“The survey of HR managers reflects both their individual views and the views of institutions as well,” Mr O’Neill said.
“It reinforces nationwide research that age discrimination is alive and well in Australia. The impact of that [discriminatory] approach or attitude to older workers is really significant.”
More than two-thirds of survey respondents (67 per cent) said the retention of older workers would benefit productivity, with 26 per cent believing it would have no impact on productivity.
Over three quarters of respondents (77 per cent) report retaining older workers as a necessary precaution against the sudden loss of essential knowledge and skills. Only a little more than a third of respondents (37 per cent) report being certain that negative perceptions in their workplace about older workers have no influence on recruitment decisions.
According to a blog about the survey results written by chief executive of the Australian Human Resources Institute, Serge Sardo, the survey offers contradictory results.
“The narrative that emerges…is one about a grudging workforce realisation that enterprises need their older workers to stay around long enough to pass on essential knowledge and skills but to then move on,” Mr Sardo wrote online.
“There is little by way of politically incorrect commentary in the respondent qualitative data but a distinct negative undercurrent comes through.”
Mr O’Neill commended the institute for issuing the survey, stating that it “had the courage to identify the issue and clearly indicated the need to address it through education and training”.
Challenging age discrimination via superannuation
Aged and community care provider, ACH Group, recently announced it would support older workers by extending the employer contribution superannuation benefit to its workers aged 70 years and over.
The announcement comes ahead of the official goverment abolition of the employer contributions' age limit in July 2013.
ACH Group workers who choose to continue working in their 70s will now receive the same superannuation entitlements that eligible workers aged up to 69 receive.
The organisation, which currently has 17 staff aged 70 and over, plans to backdate payments from July 2011 for eligible staff.
On the basis of current staff numbers, by 2017 ACH Group will employ 100 staff aged 70 and over.