‘Retirement age’ an outdated idea: Carnell

Society needs to move past the idea of a retirement age, the CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Kate Carnell tells AAA.


Society needs to move past the idea of a retirement age, says the CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Kate Carnell.

Kate Carnell
Kate Carnell

Ms Carnell told Australian Ageing Agenda more flexible attitudes to working would replace the idea of permanent retirement.

“We really have to get over the view that there is such a thing as a retirement age,” she said. “There might be a time when you might stop working, I’m not suggesting that you never do, but we need to avoid seeing it as a point in time, and instead see it as a transition.”

Speaking to AAA following her address to the COTA Australia’s National Policy forum in Canberra on Tuesday, Ms Carnell said workforce participation in later life would need to be about flexibility, with employers offering mature age workers more part-time roles and job share opportunities.

“With increased life expectancy there isn’t a choice but to have a much more flexible labour market that encourages people to stay in the workforce at least at some level for more years,” she said.

“Sometimes when people get worried about retirement ages going up, they are probably thinking that means doing the job they are in now for another 20 years. But I think we need to think about work a little differently.

“We have to see work [in older age] not just as elongating what we currently do, but about a more flexible, phase-out of the working environment.”

She gave the example of senior employees within an organisation gradually reducing their hours as they got older or moving into new roles in less physically demanding work.

Ms Carnell said increasing Australia’s mature age workforce participation rates was not only good for older people but also positive for the national economy. She said that if Australia could increase its participation rate by just 5 per cent over the next 40 years, GDP would increase by 2.4 per cent.

To improve workforce participation, she said it was also necessary to debunk common employer misconceptions about older workers. Contrary to popular belief, research has shown that older people were more likely to remain working for an organisation for longer and to take fewer sick days, she said.

“If you employ someone who is 50, the statistics show that there is a likelihood that they will stay for 15 years, but if you employ someone who is 30 there is every likelihood they will stay for five.”

Government policy

While Ms Carnell said the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry was supportive of the Federal Government’s new Restart program, which commenced this month, she called for the financial incentives to be made available for hiring any older worker, regardless of whether they were on welfare.

Under the program, from 1 July the Abbott Government began offering up to $10,000 in financial incentive payments to employers for hiring a mature age worker.

As part of the scheme, eligible employers can expect to receive $3,000 after six months of employing a full-time worker aged 50-plus who had been receiving income support (including the age or disability support pension) for at least six months. Businesses will then be paid a further $3,000 after the first year of employment, $2,000 at 18 months and a further $2,000 after two years.

Companies that employ a mature age worker on a part-time basis will also be eligible for a pro-rata subsidy as part of the program. The government’s budget papers estimated around 32, 000 mature workers would benefit from the subsidy annually.

“The other challenge is making sure that training is available [for the mature age worker],” said Ms Carnell. “The $10,000 can be spent on training but it is paid to employers over two years. The on-the-job training, however, will be required up front.

“If what we are trying to do is to encourage more mature age people to be in the workforce and more employers to look at older age people, then the issue of appropriate and targeted vocational training or training programs that are very workplace-focused is really important.”

Ms Carnell acknowledged that past financial incentive schemes offered by governments had only resulted in patchy success.

She said business and government needed to work more closely together to identify the availability of jobs that could be filled by older workers and their training needs.

Related AAA coverage:

Cash payments for older workers

Most baby boomers happy to put off retirement: survey

Tags: ACCI, kate-carnell, labourforce, mature-age-participation, restart-program,

3 thoughts on “‘Retirement age’ an outdated idea: Carnell

  1. Totally agree, I am mature continue to work in aged care, study and be involved in my local community. I am of “retirement” age however choose to continue working as I know it keeps me healthy and fit. I have many friends also past “retirement” age who continue working. Maturity is a needed when working in any community services type position. I am already preparing for the next ten years by involving myself in community singing groups and organisations that that assist others.

  2. I don’t think it matters being over retirement age and still working. Myself and many people in our age group cannot afford to retire anyway. The so called super schemes came far to late to help us, it seems strange to me the people who don’t need to survive on the pension owing to their affluent lives seem to have more say than us.

  3. I think we need to think about work and our extended lives a little differently from the way we did last century. When the concept of retirement was first implemented we had only a few years (if any) left to live. These days once an Australian reaches 65 the average age of death for that population cohort is 85. That’s around a quarter of our lives, and it’s still growing ….. at 4 months a year.

    This being the case, clearly the concept of retirement or more importantly decreased community participation really is outdated. I totally agree with Kate, but I think we should extend this idea much further and include (1) increasing the individual’s quality of life, and (2) leveraging the immense value of contribution still on offer – both in collective wisdom and the power of the social networks built up over time.

    We really do have to get over the view that there is such a thing as a retirement point in time, working or otherwise, and instead see it as another major life transition. Not dissimilar to the transition between adolescence and adulthood, where we form a new identity and new more mature relationships with those in the world in which we live.

    This period should actually be less about transitioning from working to non-working or adulthood to senior citizen, but more about transitioning from adulthood UP TO elderhood.

    This means creating new ways of positively interacting and contributing to the society in which we live. Of course citizens (of any age) that offer valuable social or commercial contributions should have the option of receiving equitable payments for those contributions. This may or may not be through traditional employment.

    The transition between adolescence and adulthood takes around 4-8 years and usually involves a personal struggle around forming a new identity. The transition between adulthood and elderhood should take at least the same period of time and also involve a serious process of contemplation in forming new purposes, new forms of relationships and a new identity in the world.

    This may be uncomfortable at times but there are no limits to personal growth and expanding maturity. In terms of increasing our internal quality of life, such self reflection is always worth the effort. Improvements to our community’s external quality of life is likely to be a wonderful consequence of elderhood adopted on mass.

    Steve Zanon
    Director, Proactive Ageing

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