The moment the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Willing to Work consultation on discrimination against mature-age workers began in Adelaide on Monday, 59-year-old Ray Ogilby shot to his feet to tell his story.
Visibly emotional, Mr Ogilby told the 50-odd attendees crowded into COTA Australia’s South Australian office meeting room that last year was the first time in four-and-a-half decades he’d found himself unemployed, when he and his wife were made redundant with “one minute’s notice” from their jobs in motel management.
The consequences for the couple have been devastating – they are about to lose their house and car, and Mr Ogilby says he has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
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“As of this morning, I’ve sent out 820 job applications, and had 300 replies by email to let me know that due to the overwhelming response they’ve had [there is no space for me],” he said.
Mr Ogilby believes his age is why he struggles to get to the interview stage for jobs, suspecting employers fear Workcover issues with older workers.
“I’ve changed my resume seven times, and cut the first 20 years off my work career – once they find out how old you are they don’t want to know you,” he said.
His story is not an isolated example – the AHRC’s National Prevalence Survey of Age Discrimination indicated 27 per cent of Australians aged 50-plus had experienced age discrimination in the workplace in the past two years.
The AHRC has already undertaken over 60 meetings across the country as the Willing to Work national inquiry reaches its halfway point, but is only now hitting the national epicentre in mature-age unemployment.
After South Australia the AHRC heads to Tasmania, with the two states featuring the highest unemployment rates and oldest average ages in Australia.
In Adelaide, attendees discussed a perceived lack of government support, competition from migrant workers, and young recruiters failing to take mature-age applicants seriously.
One vocal critic of the federal government was 59-year-old Helen Chadwick, who worked for Centrelink for 30 years before leaving three years ago.
Drawing on her experience at Centrelink, she said the only way she saw mature-age workers gain employment was via people they knew or by starting their own small business.
She said the Federal Government needed to stop stigmatising the unemployed, and instead raise awareness about the value of experienced workers and introduce mature-age hiring quotas in the public sector.
Greg Goudie, director of mature-age employment non-government organisation DOME, let attendees know his agency was doing its best to raise awareness of the problem, last week launching the Fair Go campaign to encourage employers to give older workers a chance.
Chairing the consultation was Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan, who said the government was indeed taking action on mature-age unemployment, via the Restart scheme which underwent a relaunch on Sunday.
Restart was first introduced in the 2014/15 budget, aiming to secure employment for 32,000 mature-age jobseekers every year via a $10,000 wage subsidy over two years, with the changes now allowing employers to access the full subsidy within 12 months.
As revealed by The New Daily last week, the Restart scheme fell dramatically short of the original target – 15 months into the program, it had found jobs for just 2318 people.
Speaking to The New Daily on Monday, Ms Ryan said the Adelaide meeting differed significantly from those she had chaired in other parts of the country on account of the closure of the Holden manufacturing plant and the uncertainty around the future of the Future Submarines contract.
“The effect of the structural changes in the South Australian economy are making waves, even affecting people who didn’t work in car manufacturing – there is much more a sense here of opportunities collapsing,” she said.
Ms Ryan hoped the results of the Willing to Work inquiry would inform further alterations to Restart beyond the changes introduced on Sunday.
“There’s money, the idea is good, but there’s no communication surrounding it, and it is probably a bit narrow in the way it works – you have to be on unemployment benefits for six months before you get it,” she said.
Although the Willing to Work inquiry is not due to report in until July 2016, Ms Ryan already knew one recommendation she would make to the Federal Government would be that the subsidy should apply to mature-aged recruits no matter how short a period it took for them to find a job.
Before the Adelaide consultation, Ms Ryan visited local electrical engineering firm Transformer Services, which hired a mature-aged Australian under the Restart scheme in 2014.
Transformer Services owner Colin Johns said the program had worked well for all parties.
“It’s helped our employee get a job and learn new skills and it’s ensured we have a really reliable, capable and keen employee,” he said.
The latest modifications to Restart were brought in under former Employment Minister Eric Abetz, but his successor Michaelia Cash has backed the changes made so far.
“Employment Minister Michaelia Cash is also continuing to work with Mature Age Employment Ambassador Susan Ryan to promote mature-age employment and Restart,” a Department of Employment spokesperson told The New Daily.
* If you’re experiencing emotional difficulties, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or go to www.lifeline.org.au