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Age discrimination in the workplace rife: report


Seniors’ groups say latest survey should be a wake-up call to employers and policymakers, as a third of the so-called ‘grey army’ give up their job hunt

Australia is at risk of squandering the opportunities presented by its burgeoning ranks of older workers with new research providing fresh evidence that age discrimination in the workplace is rife.

The survey commissioned by the Australian Human Rights Commission found 27 per cent of Australians aged 50 and over reported experiencing some form of age discrimination in the workplace during the past two years, rising to 32 per cent for those aged 60 to 64.

Almost a third said they were aware of other people in the same age range experiencing discrimination in the workplace because of their age.

Significantly, 33 per cent of people who had been discriminated against gave up looking for work as a result.

The National prevalence survey of age discrimination in the workplace was launched on Thursday by Treasurer Joe Hockey, who only last month called on businesses to change their attitudes and employ more older workers.

Releasing the Intergenerational Report on 5 March, Mr Hockey said Australia’s ‘grey army’ of workers would be critical to the nation’s future and enabling their participation would be the focus of a lot of “structural effort over the next few years.”

Susan Ryan

Susan Ryan

However the latest research from the Human Rights Commission shows Australia has a long way to go, as Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan commented: “It is urgent that we act to break down workplace cultures of age discrimination so older people are not only retained but also hired.”

The survey found the most common types of age discrimination were:

  • limited opportunities for employment, participation or training (52 per cent)
  • a perception that older workers had outdated skills or were slow to learn (44 per cent)
  • jokes or derogatory comments from managers (42 per cent)

Experiencing age discrimination had a range of impacts on older workers, such as causing stress or limiting self-esteem (60 per cent) and negative effect on family, career or finances (49 per cent), according to the survey.

Just 5 per cent of those who experienced age discrimination discussed the issue with an external body while only 14 per cent raised it within their organisation, the research found.

Ms Ryan noted that with life expediencies approaching 100 years in the foreseeable future, if people left the workforce at age 50 due to discrimination or negative attitudes they could have another 50 years of life without paid work.

“I continually receive representations from older Australians who have worked all their lives, are experienced, qualified, eager and open-minded, yet who can’t get a look in when it comes to paid work,” she said.

Ian Yates

Ian Yates

Insidious issue needs urgent action

Seniors’ groups said the research showed age discrimination was insidious in Australian workplaces and needed to be immediately addressed.

Council on the Ageing (COTA) Australia chief executive Ian Yates said the survey showed age discrimination was discouraging too many older people from staying in the workforce or looking for a job.

“We can’t afford for these experienced people to be driven out of the workforce because they feel discriminated against. Keeping older people in the workforce benefits our whole society,” he said.

Older individuals also benefited from staying in the workforce for longer and often experienced better health and more financial security, he said.

Michael O'Neill

Michael O’Neill

“We need more sophisticated measures and incentives to address the problem of age discrimination and we also need to look at ways we can strengthen age discrimination laws,” said Mr Yates.

Michael O’Neill, chief executive of National Seniors, said the results should be a “wake-up call for policymakers and employers.”

“It’s time Australian businesses addressed the fact that discrimination prevents us from realising the full potential of our ageing workforce,” he said.

Mr O’Neill said National Seniors’ own research had similarly shown that those on lower incomes were particularly affected but too often they had little or no access to opportunities for retraining and upskilling.

“Older Australians will play an enormous role in driving economic growth over the next couple of decades,” he said.

Inquiry underway

Meantime the Human Rights Commission announced it has launched a national inquiry into employment discrimination against older Australians and people with disability.

The inquiry was requested Attorney-General George Brandis and is being led by Ms Ryan. It will report by July 2016.

Visit the inquiry website for more information



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22 Responses to Age discrimination in the workplace rife: report

  1. Lui April 24, 2015 at 3:47 pm #

    Mick Malthouse a perfect example. Time to take action against employers who make statements questioning a persons ability to perform their job due to age!

  2. Dave April 24, 2015 at 5:48 pm #

    Employers who openly display aged bias are the easy targets.

    You’re highly qualified. You’re perfectly experienced. You’ve got a great resume. But you’re 50. All those applications and not one call back…how does one prove that your age is the reason for the silence?

    Most older workers are the pick of applicants, I look for them every time we need to hire. And there’s the problem; we all want to see a CV and CVs reveal your history. It’s tantamount to putting a use by date on your forehead.

    Perhaps we should rethink paying incentives for hiring apprentices (wonder how many actually complete their courses?) and reward hiring older workers instead?

  3. Marilyn King April 25, 2015 at 1:28 pm #

    Willing Older Workers W.O.W! receives reports of discrimination regularly. We provide practical support to mature-aged unemployed Australians and their stories are heartbreaking.

  4. Angela April 25, 2015 at 4:14 pm #

    If like me, you are older (over 55) and with a disability, job placement is well nigh impossible. It is insane, because – instead of providing for my own retirement – I am going to be welfare dependent for the next 40 odd years. And, not wanting to sit back and do nothing, people like me are going back to uni or TAFE and racking up big HECS bills – which we won’t repay if we never get a job.

    So, that is 40 odd years of extra taxes that younger Australians will have to pay to look after people like me who are perfectly capable of working and saving for our own retirement – if we were given a fair go. Is that dumb, or is that moronic?

    I am not sure when the rules changed but, when we were younger, we were taught to respect older people – now there is no such thing, and gerontophobia is the new bigotry. Even America’s Dr Phil recently got in on the discrimination act recently when he said “65 is almost 80”. Seriously????

  5. Mark April 29, 2015 at 12:42 pm #

    I’m 55, and it took me more than 9 months and nearly 100 applications to land my current job, which ends shortly. From people I’ve spoken to, over 50, this is normal these days.

    I scored a few interviews during that 9 months, and on several occasions was told I would not be a ‘cultural fit’ for the organisation. I take this to mean ‘too old,’ since most at that workplace appeared to be under 40. In another case, I had an interview for a job where my supervisor was someone in their 20s. I could hear quiet gasps of surprise when I walked in the door. I didn’t get the job. My Resume doesn’t list my whole career – why should it? I only have ‘relevant experience’ listed – perhaps that gives the impression that I’m younger.

    But overall, I think ageism is alive and well – just look at the job ads – how many times do we read ‘energetic fast-paced environment’ or ‘young dynamic team.’

    I’m looking forward to the day when I can read an ad that clearly welcomes ALL applicants, regardless of age, ethnicity, etc. But hell might have frozen over by then!

  6. Soheli April 29, 2015 at 1:08 pm #

    Am somewhat over 60. In my workplace before last the ICT person commented that my ICT skills were way ahead of the younger employees in the organisation. And am usually the ‘go to’ person for ICT if there is no onsite ICT person.

  7. Soheli April 29, 2015 at 1:13 pm #

    Federal government funding to TV productions that feature people over 50 contributing productively to the workplace.

  8. Mark May 13, 2015 at 11:41 am #

    I think all the above points are valid. I wonder if any one viewing this has used Linkedin to apply for advertised job vacancies? It is often the case that the contact details and a link to the Linkedin profile of the person overseeing the recruitment process is shown in the top right corner of the page. I always take a look at the profile of the person recruiting and I don’t think that I have seen anyone over 40 actually managing the process. If you are older than the hiring manager you basically have no chance.

  9. Jude May 31, 2015 at 9:17 am #

    Age discrimination is alive and well in education in NSW. As a senior teacher in Sydney with an impressive CV, I thought I’d step straight into a permanent position when I moved to regional NSW at age 53. Now almost 60 I’ve spent the past 7 years doing casual or contract work with scant hope of ever getting full time employment. With no retirement savings the future looks bleak unless I can reinvent myself and start my own small business, which I am now doing.
    The saddest & most unfair thing is that school principals are denying ambitious older teachers and casual teachers the opportunity to undertake essential profeossional learning. Without these mandatory modules on the CV it’s impossible to get to interview regardless of a string of other relevant qualifications and specialist experience.
    One principal is quoted as saying “it’s a waste of money training older teachers”. In her first year at a South Coast school she replaced many of the most experienced and highly qualified teachers with new graduates because they are cheaper. The lack of expertise in the school has seen parents withdraw their children resulting in funding cuts & further reduction of senior staff by attrition.
    It is no suprise that many NSW school students are struggling to achieve basic standards with the state’s best teachers being forced into early retirement.

  10. Mal Walker July 8, 2015 at 1:01 pm #

    I am 68 and the Chairman of AIEA, a business institute for interim executives. These are experienced senior people who don’t need any retraining, just a job, permanent or temporary.
    We hear about age discrimination from our members all the time.
    For this reason, we started a free jobs board for our members where employers may advertise their vacancies. Our rational was that the employers would come to AIEA looking for experience and flexibility and with that comes maturity.
    After our first six months of operation, we found that Small Businesses were the biggest users, followed by NfPs.
    Finance people were the most in demand, followed by general management, sales and project management.
    What we didn’t see at all was support from the government departments and agencies, even though it is a free service.

  11. Ed Bernacki August 4, 2015 at 2:51 pm #

    I had no idea I was older until I moved to Australia to live the dream. I have an MBA, an international background and expertise in innovation, worked with governments in different countries, written books, spoken at many conferences — and yet, I cannot even get interviewed for local government innovation jobs. The greatest irony is that I have had some meetings with top governments officials and given them international briefings yet the recruiters seem unwilling to consider my expertise.
    There is something very sad about this.
    I had a couple of interviews. One of the challenges I found was being interviewed by people who know little about the work. It was much like being interviewed for a Chief Financial Officer job and being asked questions suited to a book keeper. When I tried to introduce higher level expertise, I felt they had no idea what I was talking about.

  12. Dr Anthony Ablong August 5, 2015 at 8:15 am #

    We should not ignore the fact that younger workers as well as older workers need employment. The arguments to support the need for the employment of ‘all’ workers has been already been proven so too have arguments for older workers to be retained and employed has gone on long enough. So far, there appears to be general agreement that ‘it is a cultural matter that needs to be changed.’ Political words but when and how do we change it is the challenge.

    Since no legislation exists to resolve the ‘cultural’ challenge, may I suggest that we should have enforced the regulations to ensure aged workers be retained and employed. So we continue to be tardy- why? Political expediency or are the words just another measure of populist politics spewed out by the politicians.

    Since incentives has little effect then enforcing means imposing penalties. Not good idea. Then how about publicly naming and shaming those managers and their organisations that discriminate against or harass older workers.

    I am sure there are wiser heads that can find other ways to ‘change the culture.

  13. Country Carer August 5, 2015 at 12:13 pm #

    As a 50+ professional with strong credentials, I was out of work 6 months after my last position was declared redundant. This was my second redundancy – it took 8 months last time. I am in a country area so suitable work is scarce. It’s tough out there! There’s not much around and I’ve been in that position before where “you don’t have enough experience” is the excuse trotted out by someone half my age.
    I found invaluable advice with getting my resume reworked to focus on achievements and capabilities rather than reading like a history of work experience.
    Please…hang in there!

  14. Seb October 18, 2015 at 11:45 am #

    Believe me, ageism in the Australian workplace starts at 40, and I speak from personal experience. In November 2009 (when I was 41), I was being interviewed for a job that I was more than qualified for, in terms of skills and experience, and although the man interviewing me for the job said that he was impressed by my CY, he said “your age is going to be a problem”. Obviously what he said was very illegal, but even if I was to take the matter further, it’s hearsay and my case would collapse.

    There have been several other instances where I am certain my age (not my lack of experience) was the main factor in myself not securing a particular role, but I don’t wish to bore you with the details.

    Of course there are laws against discriminating against older workers/or job applicants, but laws are only good as they are enforced, and sadly these laws are not being enforced.

  15. Jules October 20, 2015 at 8:31 pm #

    The mining sector uses “the need to prove you are eligible to work in Australia” as a way of weeding out the over 55’s. The online application forms demand copies of driver’s licence, birth certificate or passport. Surely a passport copy with the date of birth blanked out would be sufficient! Why would the recruiters need to know the age of the applicant? After all they do have to pass a stringent medical before being accepted.

  16. Steve November 9, 2015 at 9:08 am #

    I’ve just been retired, against my will, from a full time job because I turned 60.

    My employment was in aircraft maintenance for a large organization, full time, for the last seven and a half years. I am very fit, disgustingly healthy, have an excellent work record and am quite willing and capable of continuing to work for many years to come.

    Forcing people to retire at 60 is a policy they have had for some time, and while I made it very clear I did not want to retire, nor can afford too, they proceeded with the process regardless.

    I asked to extend my retirement date to age 65, an option they allow, but they said there are sufficient maintenance people at the moment, so my application was denied.

    I’m well aware that their approach to retirement is against all community expectations, completely contrary to current government policy, and illegal in corporate Australia.

    But my employer is the Department of Defence.

    They have a compulsory retirement age of 60 and exemptions from the Age Discrimination Act that allow them to have this policy and approach to retirement.

    So at 60, I find myself forced out of a full time job purely because of my birthday, to try and find work in an environment notorious for viewing people my age as “finished”.

    A view the government is allowing one of its own departments to actively practice.

  17. Brett November 12, 2015 at 9:22 pm #

    I recently worked in the maintence field for a major maintenance contractor working inside the Port Kembla steelworks.
    This contractor recently forcibly retrenched numerous employees, targeting senior experience employees of which I was one of those.
    We were not given a say on what process weeded us out but age and income level was a factor.
    Try getting a job if your 45 much less 50
    Been to 12 interviews and all were impressed with my resume but no offers….age related?

  18. Jack November 18, 2015 at 11:20 pm #

    Heres an idea. Discrimination is rife in the workplace – age, appearance, disability etc are all problems. And have been for decades. Government has consistently ignored the problem or offered bribes to employers to employ from these groups – which have patently failed. Why not start penalising business for not being able to prove they are interviewing and employing persons from these groups. Every year, along with their tax and BAS statements they should be required to report to government on every new appointee. Every job that needs filling must be registered with the Fair Work Commission for follow up. If a business fails to prove they are hiring according to community expectations, they get hammered with business tax until they do. Government is too soft on employers and too eager to be part of the problem for the unemployed. And don’t tell me it will cost the economy because welfare and lack of opportunity is crippling it.

  19. Glen November 24, 2015 at 11:11 pm #

    I am 49 and believe I am experiencing terrible age discrimination in the search for work.
    21 years plus in the telecommunications industry carries no weight. Recently had a “temporary” job with a horrid company … Boss having a go at me because I was struggling to do soldering on microscopic tiny PCB electronic circuit boards. Use glasses like most people my age to see up close, but he even made comments about that, I was sacked for that reason. A form of age discrimination-no doubt. But the idiot boss himself also needed glasses to do fine close up work. Total crap!

  20. Graeme Oakley November 25, 2015 at 12:39 pm #

    Hi
    In reply to Jacks comments I am over 50 – I do not expect anyone to hire me based on community expectations. (whatever that is?)
    I expect to get hired due to the fact I am the best candidate for the job/work – If some young guy gets employed because he can do the job better – guess what? you go back and do some training until you are able to compete at the same level.
    You can’t expect someone just to employ you because you are older and the community expects it – that is discrimination of another kind.

    Just my thoughts

  21. Ron L December 6, 2015 at 1:54 pm #

    Graeme, In some cases older Australian’s will need to retrain to be competitive in the workforce. However, most of my peers have one or more degrees, some with master degree qualifications, some with CPAs and the list goes on. They are being told that they are over qualified, don’t have the right industry experience etc, and the excuses go on. I have been in the same position and when I followup in a few weeks and check on LinkedIn the organisations has hired someone in born after 1980 with less experience and less qualifications. I was recently told in an interview by a HR person in a very large company that they did not want to hire someone senior and set in their ways. Their senior leadership team average age would be between 35 to 40. My job over the past 20 years has been about change. I can also understand why a large number of people just give up looking for work.

  22. ram September 19, 2017 at 2:28 pm #

    I’m in my 50’s. I’ve just been turned down, not even an interview, for a government job I am overwhelmingly qualified for. I have no doubt the government has a policy of covert age discrimination. I will no longer apply for government jobs, although I may run/stand for political office.

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