Barriers for mature workers: report

A new report, released by the federal government this week, rates a mature age worker’s poor health as the most important barrier to labour force participation, closely followed by age discrimination.

By Yasmin Noone

One week or so out from Christmas and it seems as though the stars are aligning for older workers throughout Australia.

On the same week that the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler, moved to federal cabinet and Treasurer Wayne Swan released the Realising the economic potential of senior Australians report, the Minister for Employment Participation, Kate Ellis, released a different report advancing the cause of mature workers.

The Ageing and the Barriers to Labour Force Participation in Australia report, prepared for the Consultative Forum on Mature Age Participation by National Seniors Productive Ageing Centre, has identified and ranked the 14 most important barriers to mature age workforce participation.
The consultative forum, which includes representatives of seniors’ groups, unions, employers and industry groups, training and employment services experts, found that a mature worker’s own health – not workplace barriers – was the biggest barrier preventing them  from entering the workforce, staying employed or working beyond retirement age.

The group gave “physical illness, injury and disability” a 100 per cent importance rating, while in stark contrast at the other end of its priorities list, workplace barriers (poor or difficult workplace conditions or environments and physically demanding occupations) was only given 16.7 per cent.

National Seniors Australia’s general manager policy and research, Peter Matwijiw, believes there are two, sometimes conflicting, issues at play here.

“One is that the baby boomers are living longer, are healthier and wiser,” Mr Matwijiw said.

“That is a generalisation but to some extent it has truth in it.

“But, the other biological fact is that with increasing age, we do get increasing frailty.

“So there are things the government can do [to enable older workers to continue to participate in the workforce for as long as they want] but it is not solely the government’s responsibility.

“There are certain things that employers can do too but they have to step up to the game.”

He recommended employers look at their workplace structure, not only at the flexibility aspects but at the design of the workplace, how much time the person spends in the office environment, how much time they work from home and more.

“And”, he said, “there are also other things employees can do to look after their own health”.

“You might, for some reason, find that your health is deteriorating. It might not be cataclysmic but maybe poor eye sight is stopping you from seeing your computer screen properly.

“Yet there are solutions as long as people recognise that there is a problem.”

As Mr Matwijiw said, if a worker’s needs are changing as they continue to work for more years, then employer’s need to respond by changing the system.

‘Age discrimination’ and ‘issues around private recruitment firm practices’ claimed the number two spot on the top labour force participation barrier list, with both receiving a significance ranking of 87.5 per cent.

The consultative forum, chaired by chaired by Everald Compton AM, was established by the federal government in 2010 to offer it advice on practical solutions to address barriers to employment for mature age people.

Speaking at the Older Workers and Work Ability Conference in Melbourne this week, Ms Ellis said the Australian government was committed to ensuring mature age Australians who want to work have opportunities to do so.

“The Australian government recognises that older Australians, with their skills built over a lifetime, make a massive contribution to our economy and our community,” Ms Ellis said.

“We want to clear the way for older Australians to be able to stay in the workforce if they want to and this means tackling issues such as age discrimination or looking at how workplaces, equipment and jobs can be modified to better suit older Australians.

“The forum’s interim report is another tool in helping us ensure older Australians can be active in the workforce for longer.”

Coinciding with the release of the forum’s report, Ms Ellis also announced that it will conduct the first national survey on the extent and prevalence of each of the 14 barriers faced by older workers and job seekers, as identified in the report.

“This survey of 3,000 mature-age job seekers, workers and those not in the labour market will look at how the barriers interact and how they affect the decision to work or retire,” Ms Ellis said.
“…The results of the survey will be used by the Australian government to develop policies and partner with industry to help older Australians stay in the workforce.”

The forum will present its final recommendations, which is expected to include the survey’s results, to government in mid-2012.

The federal government also plans to remove the age limit for superannuation guarantee contributions. This means that from 1 July 2013, 18 000 working Australians aged 75 years and over will be able to benefit from superannuation.

The forum’s interim report is available at

The ABS on mature workers

Also this week, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released a new report stating that, of the 2.6 million people who are over the age of 45 years and working full-time, 41 per cent intend to transition to part-time work before they retire.

However, some Australians intend to keep working indefinitely, with 13 per cent of older workers in the labour force saying that they never intend to retire.

For the other 3.9 million who plan to retire at some time in the future, 36 per cent said the main influence on when to retire was financial security. Personal health or physical ability also influenced retirement decisions for older workers (25 per cent) followed by becoming eligible for a pension (10 per cent).

According to the report, Retirement and Retirement Intentions, Australia, July 2010 to June 2011, just over half of the older workers currently in the labour force, who intend to retire, expect their superannuation to be their main source of income at retirement.

A further 26 per cent expect a government pension or allowance to be their main source of income.

The average age at retirement for recent retirees (those who have retired in the last five years) was 61 years. On average, older workers who intend to retire, plan to do so at almost 63 years of age.

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