There has been a lot of discussion recently about the future of Australia’s older workers. With the latest ‘Intergenerational Report’ stirring up fear and consternation about the economic prospects of future generations, it appears that we will have to face some tough questions about the role of Australia’s more senior workers. Now, Age and Disability Commissioner Susan Ryan has entered the fray, describing the issue as a “huge problem”.

According to the Human Rights Commission representative, there is a significant and observable level of discrimination against older workers, with employers claiming that they are resistant to change and less likely to adopt current standards and practices. But Ms. Ryan says this is a harmful and incorrect assessment of the potential contribution.

“Some research says there are about 2 million people over 55 who would like to work and can’t get work. That’s massive,” Ms. Ryan told the ABC. She also criticised the inaccurate perceptions held by employers across the nation.

“They fear they won’t be productive, they won’t learn the new systems, especially IT systems. They won’t get on with younger employees and they fear they will have more sick leave. None of these fears can be supported, in fact the evidence is all the other way.”

Ms. Ryan also added that modern employers are brazen in their disregard for long established anti-discrimination laws.

“I’m amazed that some employers do just say ‘you’re too old’ or ‘you’re too old to retrain’,” she said.

With the ‘Willing To Work’ inquiry slated for the next year, the HRC has been asked to make submissions to the inquiry and to provide detailed research into the issues surrounding age and disability discrimination. The HRC will report to the Attorney General George Brandis in July of 2016, but in the interim the issue will remain vitally important.

If the ‘Intergenerational Report’ proves anything, it’s that the Australian economy is in for some significant changes across the coming decades. Serious institutional changes, as well as a rise in the need for labour, will likely result in a much greater demand for older, more experienced workers. Or so you’d think…

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