In advance of Treasurer Peter Costellos launch of a discussion paper on the implications of a rapidly ageing population, the ACTU has urged a renewed focus by policy-makers on the problem of mature age unemployment.

ACTU President Sharan Burrow said: An ACTU analysis of job search data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that age discrimination has worsened. Around 30% of 45 year olds and 60% of unemployed 55 year olds are unable to get work because employers consider them too old.

The latest ABS data on job seekers shows that age discrimination has tipped out the problem of a lack of jobs and is now the number one difficulty unemployed people face finding work.

This year, being considered too young or too old was the biggest problem getting a job for 13% of jobseekers, while too many applicants for available jobs and insufficient work experience were the main problem for 12% of jobseekers. Last year, too many applicants for available jobs was the biggest problem cited by 15% of jobseekers.

There are currently around 120,000 unemployed people aged 45-64 years recorded in the official unemployment data.
These figures are a wake up call for the Federal Government and the Treasurer to make ending age discrimination by employers a top priority and to put the needs of mature age unemployed people at the centre of the ageing of the population debate.

Joblessness among mature age men, in particular, has been one of the most dramatic changes to Australias community in the past twenty years. In the early 1980s there were only around 10% of eligible men in their mid-50s missing from the workforce, but by 2001 nearly one third of them were missing.

Mature age Australians are being locked out of the workforce by employer discrimination and because the Government is not supporting them to develop new skills and to retrain for the jobs that are available today.

There is no point extending the age of retirement or locking away peoples access to superannuation in the vain hope that people will stay in the workforce longer when the job opportunities simply are not there.

The Federal Government should broaden its narrow view of the ageing debate and provide greater employee choice & real flexibility for mature age Australians through measures such as:

  • an education campaign to change community attitudes to the abilities of older workers, particularly amongst employers and regulate to provide fair access to quality part-time work;
  • assistance to achieve financial security, including increased superannuation, improved redundancy payments and protection of employee entitlements;
  • guidance about retraining needs and options, access to vocational education and improved employment services.

    The ACTU strongly supports the choice for workers to retire at age 55 or to continue in employment. However, the financial security of workers and their families is critical to the exercise of this choice, and as such, there is no justification for increasing the age for accessing superannuation or for restricting age pension eligibility.

    Mature age workers need a fair go from employers, rather than being starved into working until they drop.