Age discrimination will need to be addressed to meet looming skill shortages. Fran Metcalf reports.
AGE discrimination is the greatest barrier to older workers remaining or rejoining the workforce, says the Commissioner responsible for Age Discrimination.
Elizabeth Broderick says the number of age discrimination complaints lodged with the Australian Human Rights Commission so far this year is more than in previous years.
She says policy changes are needed to ensure the skills of older workers are retained.
A GE discrimination is the greatest barrier to workforce participation for older peop l e , prompting c a l l s for a national education strategy to tackle it.
Age Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick says those who suffer from the invisible workplace scourge often feel shamed and useless.
Ms Broderick will speak at the Australian Human Resources Institute national convention, which starts in Melbourne on Monday.
She is calling on the Federal Government to break down structural barriers, such as age caps on workrelated insurance and superannuation for older workers.
She also wants research commissioned to identify the prevalence of age discrimination, how it occurs in workplaces and a national education strategy.
‘‘There’s a strong social movement behind sex discrimination,’’ Ms Broderick says.
‘‘People know it’s unlawful and they’re more likely to do something about it.
‘‘The piece of legislation that says age discrimination is unlawful is rela- tively new – it came in about six years ago – so there’s still a low level of awareness about it.
‘‘People who suffer age discrimination tend to internalise it rather than saying ‘The system is wrong and needs to change’.’’
Ms Broderick says the number of age discrimination complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission is rising, from 126 in 2007-08 to 151 in 2008-09.
She says it is one-third of the number of sex discrimination complaints but there are signs of change.
The number of age discrimination complaints in the first quarter of this year has doubled, she says. ‘‘I think that’s because the issue has had more airing in the last six months through the Intergenerational Report that Treasury launched, which talked about the eligibility for the pension going up to the age of 67,’’ she says.
‘‘The Government is sending strong signals that we need to work longer but the question is can we when there’s a culture that says you’re not valuable when you’re over a certain age.’’
National Seniors Australia deputy chief executive officer Geoff Trollip says that many employers believe workers become less productive as they age.
‘‘We know that many older workers start to feel people breathing down the back of their neck as they get into their 60s and it gets very uncomfortable for them,’’ he says.
Mr Trollip says people aged over 50 will become the majority of Australian adults by 2047, making an older workforce the norm.
‘‘More mature workers have a lower rate of absenteeism and injury and they value their workplace,’’ he says.
‘‘They are grateful to have a job and they want to work.’’
Federal Age Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, who is calling on the Government to break down barriers for older workers.