Age discrimination and how it's costing our country billions

Anyone who has sought work in their 60s will know just how difficult it can be. Not only are there a lack of jobs to suit your experience, there’s also widespread age discrimination to deal with. So just how prevalent is it and what is it costing our economy?

According to the first ever survey of Australia’s older workers, more than 25 per cent aged 50 years and over have experienced discrimination in the last two years. Commissioned by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC), age discrimination is still a major obstacle for older workers – and how can we be expected to work if employers aren’t willing to give us a chance?

It’s something that age discrimination commissioner Susan Ryan knows all too well. She said to the ABC that older workers were being told that “their skills are outdated” but that they could not be retrained because “it’s not worth training someone who’s 53”.

“They’ve been told that they are too slow, that they don’t learn new things fast enough, that they can’t keep up with the younger workers and so on,” she said. Is this a familiar story for you or someone you know?

“And of course, none of these things is true, but if you’re told it day in and day out, it has a devastating effect and when people lose their jobs and find age discrimination when they keep applying for them, they give up”.

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Joe Hockey has acknowledged the survey and said “For some in Australia, [age discrimination is] not obvious. But, from my perspective, and the perspective of many people here, age discrimination is as reprehensible as racial discrimination, as it is religious discrimination”. Do you agree?

And the age discrimination against those in their 50s and 60s is not limited to the emotional wellbeing and social impact it causes, but it also causing massive losses in the workforce.

According to Ms Ryan, the economic cost of losing older Australians from the workforce was huge, and despite the amount of age discrimination complaints made, there are many other older workers out there who do not want to cause a fuss or take action against those who are treating them unfairly.

“The loss has been estimated at around $10 billion a year…When you think that those people are not paying taxes, they’re not out there consuming and you know, supporting other businesses. They’re living on welfare, their health declines.

“They’re loathe to raise it with their employer and they’re loathe to bring a complaint.

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“I think it’s important for older people to understand that they do have rights, that the law does protect them against unfair age discrimination and they should be more assertive … and more prepared to say to their employer ‘look, yes I’m 53, but you’re sending these other people off to do re-training, and I feel I could benefit the company if I do it too”.

Last week, Ms Ryan launched a national inquiry into workplace discrimination against older workers and people with disability. She found that employment rates for both groups were unacceptably low and put it down to a deep cultural prejudice against older people, despite older Australians making up about a quarter of the population, but only 16 per cent of the workforce.

“We’ve had this demographic revolution. We’re living a generation longer than our forbears did and yet the workplace environment hasn’t changed,” Ms Ryan said.

The federal government still want Australians to work longer but it doesn’t seem feasible at this time, considering the employers are the ones making it difficult, and not from a lack of want or desire from the unemployed.

Ms Ryan also said that with more transparency and complaints made against employers who do age discriminate, more companies will be aware they are doing it. She said that many employers still think they don’t discriminate despite not employing older workers.

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She also had a great idea to “get those employers who are aware of the value of experienced workers to be sort of showcases and to say ‘well, we’re employing older people and look how successful we are’ [and] inspire some others”. Do you think this is a good plan? Or is there another way to convince employers to take a chance?

SMH reports that Treasurer Joe Hockey will launch the survey report on Thursday morning in Sydney.


Tell us your thoughts today: What should be done to combat age discrimination in the workplace and in society?