The Elephant in the Room: Age Discrimination in Employment

There is no doubt that older workers make a massive contribution to Australia’s economy. An earlier report released by the National Seniors Productive Ageing Centre, Still Putting In, showed that older workers contributed $59.6 billion a year to our economy.

Equally, the country loses an astounding $10.8 billion a year by not making use of the skills and experience of older Australians who want to work. Which prompts the question – why are we overlooking these older workers?

This report explores that question, and the results are not pretty. It finds that age discrimination is widespread - in recruitment, in promotion, and during times of retrenchment. It is evident in workplace harassment and pressure to retire, and in the unspoken but powerful assumption that the best workers are young workers.

Age discrimination, although widespread, is “the elephant in the room” – palpable but unmentionable. Australia loses incalculable talent and energy through age discrimination. Paradoxically, while the federal government is encouraging people to stay in the workforce well past the once-mandatory retirement ages of 60 or 65, many older workers find themselves rejected. There is a painful gap between laws against age discrimination, and the practice of age discrimination.

The thrust of this report is that awareness of age discrimination law leads often to nimble side-stepping – compliance with the letter rather than the spirit of the law. Recruitment advertisements no longer mention age but resort to euphemisms. Where complaints of age discrimination have been made, in many cases complainants received only an apology. Very few people refused a job were subsequently offered that job, and compensatory payments were usually low.

The effect of discrimination on older workers is often devastating. The case studies and personal accounts reveal the harrowing experience of older workers who have felt the weight of age discrimination and rejection. The policy implications emphasise that age discrimination cannot be ignored, even if it has become less overt, and more efforts are needed to overcome it.

To download the full report, please complete and submit the form below.

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