Age-old prob­lem

Age dis­crim­i­na­tion will need to be ad­dressed to meet loom­ing skill short­ages. Fran Met­calf re­ports.

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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.

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