Australia ‘ageist against mature age workers’

Discrimination report

By Kate Southam

The Australian workplace is hostile to mature age workers denying those jobs, training and labelling them as high occupational health & safety risks, according to a new report.

Age discrimination – exposing the hidden barrier for mature age workers, paints a picture of exclusion, ill informed assumptions and even humiliation for older people in Australia.

A compilation of research, academic papers and government studies, the report by the Australian Human Rights Commission warns the nation will pay an economic and a social price for its prejudice.

Australia’s ageing workforce meant it was "vital to national productivity that all people who want to work are able to do so to the maximum of their skills, abilities and aspirations regardless of age."  

The majority of age discrimination complaints received by the Australian Human Rights Commission in 2008-2009 were made by people aged over 45 and were related to employment.

The Commissioner responsible for Age Discrimination Elizabeth Broderick told CareerOne she hopes the report will "elevate" the conversation about prejudice towards mature age workers.

Broderick says age discrimination was "entrenched" in Australia and could be found in almost every sphere of public life.

Speaking to CareerOne.com.au, Broderick said she believed Australia needed a social movement not unlike the women’s movement to free us from our mindset that aging is something to fear and to fight.

"We need social change within the community. [Ageism] doesn’t just exist – it thrives," says Broderick adding that unlike other forms of discrimination ageism is not yet "at the point of being stigmatised." In other words, it’s socially acceptable to be ageist towards older people.

 "Mature age workers" are defined by the Australian government as anyone aged 45 or older.

The report suggests that ageism has worsened with the shift away from valuing experience to the "efficiency and compliance over quality model also known as the work intensification model. It is based on the thinking that older people are experienced but high risk and inefficient and younger people [are] inexperienced and compliant."

Issues identified in the report include:

•    How MAWs are screened out right at the beginning of the recruitment process by  employers that instruct their recruitment agency not to put forward any candidate for interview aged over 40.
•    How many job interviews are conducted by young people who discard older candidates regardless of their suitability for the job role because they cannot identify with them.
•    That job ads use code words that mean "young" such as "innovative", "dynamic" and "creative".
•    MAWs are passed over for promotion or denied training and career development because they are not deemed worth the investment of time and money.
•    MAWs are often targeted during rounds of redundancies and branded as "dead wood".  
•    Older workers feel pressured to retire before the pension eligibility age of 67.

In a separate interview with The Courier-Mail’s Fran Metcalf Broderick said: "Unlawful age discrimination in recruitment has been described as rampant, systemic and the area of employment decision-making where managers use age to differentiate between people most extensively,”.

"It is both ironic and troubling that, as populations around the world are ageing . . . unlawful age discrimination has not only become silently entrenched in public life, but has also become one of the most significant barriers to workplace participation for mature-age workers in Australia today.

"If one considers that as of July 2010, 38 per cent of long-term job-seekers are over the age of 40 years, discriminatory recruitment practices like these not only represent a serious problem to mature-age workers but have implications for the productivity of our nation.

"Further research and awareness-raising education campaigns must be core initiatives if we are to confront systemic age discrimination,” she said.

The report defines ageism as the systematic stereotyping of, and discrimination against, people simply because they are older. Older people are not seen as individuals but rather lumped together. The report claims older people are unfairly labelled as higher occupational health & safety risks than younger workers and that they are unwilling to learn new technologies.

While the report focuses on employment it does flag several other issues associated with age prejudice towards older people.

For example, the report claims health providers too often dismiss symptoms such as balance problems, memory loss and depression as the result of ‘old age’ instead of treatable conditions.

Broderick told CareerOne that more research was planned to document the prevalence of age prejudice in recruitment and within workplaces.

Article from CareerOne.com.au , October 1, 2010.


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