Transitioning to retirement can be tough under any circumstances, but the situation can be made even more difficult when older workers find themselves retiring way earlier than intended, due to a reduction in hours, injury and illness or being made redundant.
While the majority of workers are fortunate enough to end their careers on their own terms, with time to prepare for life in retirement, some older Australians are left feeling that they have been forced out of the workforce due to their advancing years.
We spoke to Marlene Krasovitsky from The Benevolent Society about the issue of ageism in employment, with the Campaign Director telling us that older Australians are finding themselves “locked out” of work because of “ageist assumptions” about older people.
“The right to work, free from discrimination, is a fundamental human right because work brings with it dignity, independence, a sense of purpose, social connectedness as well as the capacity to earn and save money,” she said.
“But it’s our ageist assumptions and stereotypes, which underpin employment discrimination, that are locking older people out of work. They’re being shut out of work and pigeonholed or they are stuck at work and not being offered training or promotional opportunities because of the assumption they’re all just waiting for retirement.”
Marlene said that baseless assumptions, such as older people lacking “fresh skills”, being unable to learn new things or being “over the hill”, are deeply ingrained in society and only add to the problem when it comes to older workers being passed over for younger staff.
Another issue is the cost associated with employing older workers – who have more financial responsibilities and have often progressed up the career ladder – which can lead to them being targeted for redundancies “because they are seen as too expensive”, Marlene added.
Starts at 60 readers are among those who believe they have been unfairly discriminated against due to their age, whether it was to make way for younger staff or to cut down the company’s bills by getting rid of their large pay-packet.
Grace Scriha, from Mackay, was told by the care company she worked for that there were not enough hours for her, despite going on to hire “younger, cheaper and inexperienced staff” after ceasing her employment.
She said the experience of finding herself unemployed has left her feeling “depressed” and “useless”.
“All together I posted around 100 applications with cover letter,” she said.”I spent a fortune on getting professional people to write cover letters and resumes for me. But, no chances! I believe that now, in employers’ eyes, I am ‘too old’.
“I am depressed, I feel useless, forgotten, a nobody. Being unemployed affects me very much because I have so much knowledge and experience to pass on to younger generations.”
Peter Basson, 75, was made redundant from his position as a quality assurance coordinator in 2018 and has since failed to secure other employment. He told us: “I am fit and active and have now been made redundant. I have around $20,000 in Super and wish to work, but most applications come back saying I am overqualified or that the position has been filled.”
Christine Macfadyen was also made redundant in May last year, just three days after she was certified as ‘fit to work’, having suffered an accident at work in June 2017 which left her in need of an operation. The 65-year-old wants the federal government to do more to help older people find work, adding that there is a wealth of knowledge and experience “languishing at home”.
“The government must lead the way and open job opportunities for the ageing population,” Christine said. “Give us federal or state jobs and show we are still capable of contributing to the country we love. Then we earn wages and contribute to tax, rather than becoming dependent on a government pension.”
It’s not just the issue of being forced out of work though, as Marlene also revealed that the work environment can oftentimes not be inviting or inclusive towards older employees.
“At work older people tell us they feel excluded,” she added. “They may be looking for some flexibility in their work practices and don’t feel comfortable requesting those, also they stop being given promotional and training opportunities and they’re targeted for exit and voluntary redundancy without any support or consideration for the transition to retirement not working.”
Marlene added: “The reality today is most of us are going to live into our 80s and if we can’t find work from 50-55, that’s an awfully long time to not be working. This under-utilisation of the skills and experience of older people represents a huge loss to our economy.”
The Benevolent Society launched the ‘Every Age Counts’ campaign in October last year, with the aim of fighting ageism and age discrimination across Australia. To find out more click here.
This story is part of a series Starts at 60 is doing on ageism in the workplace. If you’ve experienced something similar and would like to share your story, please email [email protected]
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