Older Australian workers face a “netherworld” of ageism, dole cuts and subcontracting, advocates have warned.
The latest blow is the government’s proposal to remove the energy supplement for new recipients of the Newstart allowance. This will cut $4 a week in benefits for the unemployed, many of whom are aged in their 50s and 60s.
Coupled with this is the ongoing problem of ageism. The recent Willing to Work report, based on surveys of employers and workers, found that “too many” older Australians are “shut out” because of discrimination.
Employment lawyer Alan McDonald, managing director of McDonald Murholme in Melbourne, warned that an increasing number of older Australians are caught in the “unemployment netherworld” – unwanted by employers, squeezed out by the young and pushed towards subcontracting.
“The increasing number of university graduates who are flexible and hardworking has become a real challenge to older workers who have a wealth of experience but have outdated or considered to have lower qualifications,” Mr McDonald said.
“The Equal Opportunity laws obviously prohibit discrimination of older employees but it goes on nevertheless.”
When older Australians do find employment, it is often as subcontractors, Mr McDonald said. This can deprive them of certainty, higher income, penalty rates, superannuation and insurance.
ACTU secretary Dave Oliver said his organisation, which represents 46 unions, is firmly opposed to the “obscene” Newstart cuts, partly because he expects a flood of older workers to apply for benefits in coming years as the economy transitions.
“Our expectation is that a lot of older people will enter the system. Straight off the bat, they’ll be financially disadvantaged because of the reduction.”
Many of these unemployed workers will be victims of the end of the mining boom or the death of the car manufacturing industry, Mr Oliver said.
“Compound that with what’s been happening across the workforce. We’re seeing the erosion of full-time employment. We’ve got part-time and casual employment at an all-time high, combined with the growth of labour hire.
“And also on top of that we’ve also got the importation of semi-skilled and skilled people through the temporary migration programs, which is significantly pressuring the jobs market.”
An increasing number of the unemployed are aged 45 and over, as noted in a recent Brotherhood of St Lawrence report. Older workers suffer lower unemployment than younger workers, but once out of work they find it much more difficult to get back in, the report found.
What can be done?
Employment lawyer Alan McDonald encouraged older workers not to accept premature retirement, despite adversity.
“Both [Hillary] Clinton and [Donald] Trump are well beyond retirement age and are proof that older workers can find the energy and the leadership to carry on if they can manage the networks they have accumulated over their life.”
He also recommended older employees not to shy away from marketing their experience.
“Whether the older employee likes it or not, they must play on their years of experience as their selling point that usually works.”
The ACTU’s Dave Oliver said government funding for re-training programs for the unemployed has fallen in recent years, and must be increased. He also said the government should foster the creation of new industries, such as clean energy.
“Obviously we’ve got to have the jobs to transition into. The government says it has a spending problem. We disagree. They have a revenue problem, and in fact now is the time for government to be borrowing to invest more in infrastructure and job creation programs.”
The office of Employment Minister Michaelia Cash declined to comment. Social Services Minister Christian Porter previously defended the removal of the energy supplement by telling The New Daily that future welfare recipients should not be compensated “for a tax which no longer exists”.