A news article last week highlighted a national inquiry led by the Age and Disability Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan which concluded that ongoing, systemic age and disability workforce discrimination is not only a hugely significant drain on the economy but has devastating consequences for individuals.
The same article reports of a former customs officer who felt certain she would be able to find full-time work again shortly after accepting a voluntary redundancy at age 45. In spite of her educated, single and child-free professional status, she could not secure another job. A recruiter finally told her that most employers preferred to employ people under 40 rather than someone her age or older.
An educator and consultant reportedly told the inquiry how he too got a taste of the age discrimination he’d dished out to others in the past after he turned 64. He confessed on hindsight that he didn’t want to jeopardise his position by having an older, more experienced subordinate.
It is unthinkable that people who lose their jobs in their 50s may live up to another 40 years without paid employment, says Ms Ryan. She adds that it is enraging to know that there are perfectly capable people in their 50s or younger who expect to and want to but cannot find jobs.
As the proportion of the population over 65 swells, governments want people to work for longer to ease budget pressures. Age pension and health systems will be too costly for a shrinking workforce to simply fund through taxes. The inquiry found that Australia’s labour force participation rates for older people and the disabled were “far too low” compared to OECD countries. According to the Grattan Institute, even if participation rates in the Australian mature age labour force increased by 7 per cent, we would still lag behind New Zealand, but on the upside the boost to GDP by 2022 would be roughly 1.4 per cent or $25 billion.
At its launch earlier this month, Attorney-General George Brandis said the inquiry’s recommendations will be considered, calling the report a “very, very important body of work” and a “milestone in public policy making”. The inquiry recommends flexible working conditions and targets for employing older workers and disabled people in public service jobs. Private employers should publicly report progress on hiring older workers and those with disabilities, with the role of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency expanded to monitor diversity. It also recommends a national action plan to be developed and to include a minister for longevity in the federal cabinet.
Ms Ryan, who pioneered the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 in the Hawke Labor government, is urging for the same cultural change for older people and people with disability such as that achieved in relation to women, saying there is “no basis for the stereotype” that these people are categorically called “unreliable, can’t handle high-stress jobs or won’t be able to work at a high enough pace”.
The conclusion of the inquiry makes a very strong case for improvements to policy, regulation and governing laws and a call to private employers to get on board with specific targets and measures to promote workplace equality for older people and those with a disability. With regulatory changes anticipated, employers should ensure they are already promoting a healthy anti-discriminatory, bullying and harassment culture within their organisation.
iHR Australia’s Managing Director Stephen Bell observes a common theme in many ‘high pressure’ environments where senior executives may relent to the ‘don’t bother me’ learning culture of their managers. Bell advises proper training is vital as there are key points every workplace bullying training for managers must cover in order to ensure their compliance in the anti-bullying, discrimination and harassment space. In one of his key points for managers, Bell states that managers must know that there are local laws that overarch their company policy. A general understanding of the focus of these laws is important and knowing where to find further information is just as essential. Reports such as the national inquiry is one example of why employers should constantly be on the ball with pro-actively promoting a safe and equal employment opportunity culture.
Employees will be influenced by the importance their leaders put on this matter, if all the leaders can spare is 5, 10 or even 15 minutes there will be no hope of modifying what are sometimes long standing inappropriate behaviours at the frontline, says Bell. Inadequate training definitely places the company and its people at high risk; both legally and from a welfare point of view.
As the largest independent provider of anti-bullying, harassment, discrimination and EEO training across Australia, iHR Australia offers onsite, public and blended learning solutions. Our onsite and public Anti-Discrimination and Bullying training programs does more than inform about lawful behaviour – it addresses desired workplace behaviour and practices that reflect organisational values, create culture and increase motivation and staff engagement.