People like tradesmen and nurses who have physically taxing jobs should not have to wait until they’re 70 to gain access to the age pension, says Australia’s Age Discrimination Commissioner.
As the Abbott government seeks to lift the pension age to 70, Commissioner Susan Ryan suggests a flexible approach to a ‘one-size-fits-all’ retirement age would better reflect the realities of the workforce.
In an exclusive interview with The New Daily, Ms Ryan says older workers whose physical condition makes it hard for them to continue doing heavy labour into their 50s and 60s should be given early access to the pension.
The call for pension flexibility comes as the Commission undertakes the first national survey of aged discrimination in the workplace.
“I don’t think they should be saying ‘every single person can work until they are 70’,” she said of the government’s plan to lift the retirement age.
Pollster Roy Morgan is planning to survey 2000 people across Australia as part of the landmark survey. The full report – due by March 2015 – will be the first of its kind and comes as governments grapple with the cost of an ageing population.
Treasurer Joe Hockey announced plans in the May Budget to lift the retirement age by 2035. Legislation was introduced last week into the House of Representatives to increase the “qualifying age for age pension, and the non-veteran pension age, to 70, increasing by six months every two years and starting on 1 July 2025”.
But while office workers and others whose work does not come at the cost of physical wellbeing, those who have suffered a debilitating breakdown should be able to seek earlier access to retirement.
“If the government is intending to formally lift the aged pension age to 70 it needs to review criteria for early access to the aged pension,” Ms Ryan says.
“Because there will be some people because of their working life who are not really up to retraining, they are not really on a disability, they are people who are ready to retire. They have made their contribution and I don’t think there is anything wrong with having some well worked out access rules for people who need that.”
The Age Discrimination Commissioner is seeking to break down barriers against older workers and believes that a “rational approach” will see most people working up until the age of 70.
But she says there will need to be more flexibility shown by both employers and employees to ensure this happens.
“We are looking at a different workplace going forward. The old notion of the workplace – you leave school, you get a qualification. Or maybe you go straight into the workforce, you stay there until you are 65, you retire, you die. That is gone,” she says.
Instead workers who are getting close to the age of 50 need to think through their circumstances and ask, “what am I going to do for the next 20 years?”
Employers, too, need to think about the changing workplace and providing more flexibility for older workers, perhaps to work fewer days each week.
Older workers vilified
Several hundred complaints of age discrimination are lodged each year with the Commission, mostly relating to employment issues. Typical complaints include older workers being the first to be offered redundancies in the event of downsizing, and older workers being denied access to training programs in areas like IT.
Even people who are unable to leave work early to look after their elderly parents in a nursing home could be subject to a form of age discrimination.
“I am not asking the employers to pay more and get less. I am asking the employers to actually think about their own set up and what is possible for them,” Ms Ryan says.
And with the fastest growing age cohort in Australia people aged 65 and over, Ms Ryan says it’s important that attitudes change.
“It’s a demographic fact that our population is getting older and older. We are living longer and longer. We are living in better health than we used to so it makes sense that people can work for a much longer working life,” she says.