Two years ago Susan Ryan AO, the age discrimination commissioner in Australia, highlighted workplaces needed an overhaul if age prejudice was to stop.
Back then her statement was in response to the Federal Government’s plan to raise the pension age to 70 by 2035, and while she agrees it makes sense in the future there must first be a massive overhaul to keep people in the workplace.
Speaking at the National Press Club on July 6, Ryan says the challenge has not been met.
“Perhaps I was not catastrophic enough in my warnings… Not inspirational enough in my ideas… Because that was back in 2014, and now two years later, not enough has happened,” the commissioner says.
“The crisis has not yet been averted, the opportunities of the ageing revolution still elude us.”
Ryan says there are many gains to be had by increasing the participation of older people in the workforce, yet despite the evidence that older Australians are willing and capable of working longer “we proceed too slowly to dismantle the barriers”.
She points to the Intergenerational Report of 2015 that projected the number of Australians aged 65 and older would more than double by 2055, and there will be more than 40,000 people aged 100 or older.
Men are expected to live, on average, until 95 years of age while women will have an average of 96 years, according to the report.
But this issue is not one isolated to Australia; it is a global issue.
“It’s not surprising that in Australia, as elsewhere, governments are daunted by the prospect of looming fiscal crises, especially with respect to health services.
“It is surprising, and worrying however, that so little has been done to mitigate such crises,” Ryan says.
She highlights a recent Grattan Institute report that estimated an increase in workforce participation of 60- to 70-year-olds by at least 7 per cent would raise the GDP in 2022 by $25 billion.
Additionally, businesses face the negatives of losing knowledge, experience and skills, as well as high costs in recruitments and training and a loss of productivity every time an employee over the age of 50 walks out the door.
“The biggest and best change we could make is to extend the working life of most Australians,” Ryan says.
“Far from planning to retire in their 50s, most Australians now want and need to work up to their 70s and beyond.
“They understand that age rules for the pension and associated concessions are moving up, but where are the jobs and retraining programs to support the longer wait for the pension?”
Ryan questions why age discrimination, where people in their early-50s are being pushed out of paid work and on to benefits, is being allowed to occur when we are facing increased average life expectancy. She argues that employers should reconsider turning away the skilled and experienced in their 50s.
“Employment discrimination against older people is widespread and systemic,” the age discrimination commission says. “Ageism is a barrier at every stage.”