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'Age apartheid' thrives as Gov's older worker policy fails

By Malcolm King - posted Tuesday, 8 March 2016


A decade of older worker initiatives by the Australian Government have failed through poor planning, shoddy implementation and a chronic lack of promotion.

Around 260,000 older job seekers aged 45 years and over are now looking for work and 128,000 of those are long term unemployed.

If you are under 55, on average you'll spend about 41 weeks out of work. If you're 55 and over, expect to be unemployed for 94 weeks or more. In fact, if you're over 55, the chances of ever working full time again are remote.

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Older workers and job seekers have been shunted to the 'back of the employment bus'. They have become 'Uncle Toms', swallowing their dignity to get or hold a job. These men and women are not judged by the colour of their skin but by the grey in their hair and the wrinkles under their eyes.

I worked in the Mature Age Section in the Department of Employment in Canberra and saw how deeply ingrained 'age apartheid' was in Australian society. This tyranny has passed from generation to generation like a rogue gene. So those ostracising older job seekers and workers now can expect to be victimised themselves in 30 years time.

There's not much one can do about being 50. The madness of age prejudice is that exclusion or expulsion from the labour market is based on the year when one was born.

Back in 2004, the Howard Government unveiled a $12.1 million package called "Wise Workforce". It sought to keep older workers working longer and to get mature aged job seekers a job. The initiative crumbled.

In 2012, the Gillard Government launched Experience Plus, a suite of programs which sought to help 10,000 older job seekers but the $1000 Jobs Bonus attracted less than 300 people. I worked on the program in Canberra. It wasn't promoted and failed.

The Gillard Government scrapped three important initiatives in Experience Plus: On the Job Support, Experience Plus Training and Job Transition Support. These programs sought to help tradies and others get off the tools and through training, make the transition to work that was not so physically demanding. The programs were not promoted and withered on the vine.

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The Corporate Champions program was a moderate success as it taught businesses how to recognise and counter the effects of an ageing workforce. The program was rolled out to 250 businesses across Australia before the money ran out.

In 2014 the Abbott Government launched the $524.8 millionRestart program with the aim of securing employment for 32,000 mature-age jobseekers every year through a $10,000 wage subsidy. Fewer than 3000 people have so far enrolled.

Back in March 2015, the then Treasurer, Joe Hockey, wrote in The Age, "Ageism will hold us back because, with an ageing population, we need to increase participation by older workers in the workforce. The evidence over recent decades indicates older people are underemployed for longer periods than younger workers. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show more than 35 per cent of jobseekers aged 55 and over stopped looking for work because they believed potential employers thought they were too old."

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About the Author

Malcolm King works in generational workforce change. He was an associate director at DEEWR Labour Market Strategy in Canberra and the senior communications strategist at Carnegie Mellon University. He also runs a professional writing business called Republic.

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