How To Get Gran Back To Work

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Over the last 12 months, the Commonwealth Government has scrapped three important mature age initiatives: Experience Plus Training, On the Job Support and Job Transition Support.

This is in spite of the findings of the 2012 Consultative Forum on Mature Age Participation that poor physical health, age discrimination, recruitment practices, and a mismatch of skills and experience with employer demands, were the major barriers to employment for mature age people.

On the Job Support was an excellent program aimed at helping older tradies and labourers find new ways to work so they didn’t have to bust their guts in their late 50s and 60s. If you work on the tools, and you’re over 55, chances are you’re carrying an injury. The idea was to ease them off hard labour and into less physical work. The Government didn’t promote it.

The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) also recently completed the tender for consultants to deliver the $15.6 million Corporate Champions program until 2016, another good program that aims to improve older worker retention and workplace productivity.

The Australian Industry Group (AIG) is responsible for the national project management of the Champions project, yet it has failed to promote the project. It’s also against workplace flexibility, a key plank of the Corporate Champions initiative — but that’s another matter.

Unfortunately the Prime Minister Gillard’s recent announcement of a September election has considerably dampened the enthusiasm for employers to become Champions. Why line up to join a program, which will take time and resources, if it has a good chance of being scrapped and replaced when the Coalition is elected?

I have researched and written about the post-war generation since 1992 and was an academic at RMIT working in the area of creativity and adult education. I recently left DEEWR’s mature age policy section because I was concerned about the lack of implementation of the national older worker and job seeker strategy. But consider that if Tony Abbott is elected, DEEWR will be restructured. That’s a shame as it has some excellent staff who actually want to implement programs.

The terminated mature age programs are examples of failing to implement key initiatives with urgency. How many times have we seen good initiatives go belly up because of internecine bureaucratic wrangling, going late to tender or flip-flopping on objectives?

The Minister for Ageing, Mark Butler recently told The Advertiser that the Boomers are going to have to work on and on for the sake of the economy. It’s clear that on a macro level the government’s mature age policy initiative is floundering.

Australia can afford to pay pensions and healthcare over the next 40 years because Australians are choosing to work longer. What Butler forgot to say was, "We need more people to stay in work to keep our levels of economic activity up … if they want to." Four important words.

Labor wants working parents with carer responsibilities, mature aged workers, and others, to have the right to discuss flexible working arrangements with their employers. Older workers may have the right to ask their employers for flexible hours but employers are under no obligation to comply.

What’s the point? There needs to be legislative muscle to back it up but the Government knows the Business Council of Australia (BCA) and the Australian Industry Group (AIG) would hit the roof. I’m not convinced the ACTU is on side either.

Statistics show that over the past decade, more Australians in their 60s have kept on working. This has little to do with government policies and more to do with the "cohort effect". Working Boomers turning 60 have moved in to an age bracket when they used to retire but now they are working on. There has also been a dramatic increase in female participation too. This is good news.

So it’s absolutely baffling why the Minister for Ageing would cut across the bows of both Kate Ellis’ and Bill Shorten’s portfolios and make a comment, which reads like the government doesn’t care about six million voting Boomers.

Older workers who leave the workforce and then try to return face on average more than 70 weeks on the dole before they find a job. Many never do. That’s age prejudice at work. The queen wasps of this nefarious practice live in recruitment agencies.

A 2012 Deloitte Access Economics report found that that if participation among workers aged 55+ was boosted by three per cent, gross domestic product would rise by $33 billion, or about 1.6  per cent of national income.

Around 111,000 mature age workers state that they want, and are available for, more hours than they have. This equates to an underemployment rate of 5.8 per cent (compared to 12.1 per cent for 15-24 year olds and 6.2 per cent for 25-54 year olds).

National Seniors has repeatedly asked for direct political action to help older job seekers but the Government has replied with soft soap measures or failed to properly implement existing programs. National Seniors would be better off forming its own political party and run candidates on local issues such as healthcare, pension reform and aged care.

Taking on more migrants isn’t going to help and raising the pension age is a stick, not a carrot. Butler was right about one thing. We need to talk more about the contribution older Australians make to productivity and to local communities. It will be market forces that recognise the Boomers have much to offer and it will be the threat of wage inflation that makes employers snuggle up to the Boomers once again.

New Matilda

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.

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