Business, Unions Unite for Older Workers

Australia’s corporate sector and trade unions are working together to boost the number of older people remaining in the workforce.

ACTU President Sharan Burrow and Business Council of Australia Chief Executive Katie Lahey today released a joint report – Age Can Work: The Case for Older Australians Staying in the Workforce – highlighting the potentially massive social and economic impact of Australia’s ageing population.

In response, the peak councils will focus on workplace changes to combat age discrimination, support older workers and promote quality part-time jobs as a transition from full-time work to retirement.

“Over the past ten years, there have been 1.4 million new entrants into the Australian workforce. Between 2020 and 2030, there will be only 120,000 new entrants for the entire decade,” Ms Burrow and Ms Lahey said.

“As a result, while there are currently six working Australians supporting each retired person – by 2025 this ratio will be one to three.”

Ms Burrow and Ms Lahey said this serious decline in the number of working Australians would put an enormous strain on the economy and public services.

“Estimates put the cost of Australia’s ageing workforce at $27 billion in lost economic growth and spending each decade. Health, welfare and pension systems will be ill equipped to support a growing class of retired Australians,” they said.

“Significant cultural change is needed to break down stereotypes about older workers and retirement if Australia is to respond effectively to these challenges. We need to support older Australians who want to stay in the workforce longer, whether it is to maintain their incomes or because they find it fulfilling.”

The joint report released today noted a strong culture of early retirement in Australia compared with other advanced countries. The study by University of NSW Emeritus Professor Sol Encel also found that older workers are discriminated against despite anti-discrimination laws in all States and Territories.

“For too many mature workers retiring early is not always voluntary – older workers, particularly men, have been vulnerable to downsizing and restructuring,” said Ms Burrow and Ms Lahey.

As a first step, the BCA will develop voluntary guidelines to help companies identify and implement best practices to retain mature-age workers.