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5 What do we know about employment discrimination and the labour force participation[5] of older workers?

Australia has an ageing population.

The 2015 Intergenerational Report projects that the proportion of the population aged 65 and over will more than double by 2054-55.[6] Life expectancy is also increasing such that by 2055, life expectancy at birth will be 95.1 years for men and 96.6 years for women in Australia.[7] As a result of the growing population of older people and increasing life expectancy, there will be greater pressure for older Australians to remain in the workforce for longer.

Labour force participation rates for older Australians are currently low. As a proportion of the whole population, one out of three Australians over 55 participate in the labour force; approximately 1.9 million people.[8] This accounts for 16% of the total labour force.[9] Statistics also indicate that labour force participation declines with age. In the year to June 2010:

  • 71% of Australians aged 55-59 years were participating in the labour force. [10]
  • 51% of 60-64 year olds were in the labour force; and 24% of those aged 65-69 years.[11]

In 2013 to 2014, employment was the main area of complaint to the Commission under the Age Discrimination Act 2004 (Cth), making up 62% of age-related complaints in the last financial year.[12] The main age groups of complainants were 55-64 years (31% of age-related complaints) and 65-74 years (17% of age-related complaints).[13]

The Commission’s National prevalence survey of age discrimination in the workplace found that over a quarter (27%) of Australians aged 50 years and over indicated that they had experienced some form of age discrimination on at least one occasion in the workplace in the last two years.[14] The highest incidence of age discrimination was observed in the population aged between 55 and 64 years old.[15]

Another key finding was that a third (33%) of people who had been discriminated against gave up looking for work as a result of experiencing age discrimination.[16]
In the year to January 2015, there were 80,000 unemployed Australians aged 55 and over, an increase of 12% over that year.[17]

Discussion question

  1. What other data or information is available on employment discrimination against older Australians?

 

5.1 How does Australia compare internationally?

The past few decades have seen a steady increase in participation of older Australians in the labour force. However, as the proportion of the population aged 65 and over is projected to more than double by 2054-55, the government and community face the challenges of meeting future demands for health and aged care services and retirement incomes, labour force participation and sustainable economic productivity.[18]

This situation is not unique to Australia. Many other industrialised countries around the world face similar challenges in regards to ageing populations. Countries such as New Zealand, Canada and Japan are doing much better than Australia at recruiting and retaining older workers (see Table 1 below). While Australia’s labour force participation amongst people aged 45-54 and 55-64 are higher than the OECD averages there is still much scope to encourage older Australians to remain in or, re-enter, the workforce.

The National Inquiry will look at domestic and international best practice to address employment discrimination and other barriers that prevent or discourage participation of older Australians in the workforce.

Table 1: Annual labour force participation rates, 2013[19]

Table 1 compares annual labour force participation rates (2013) among Australia, four other OECD countries, and the OECD average, across three age groups: 45-54 years; 55-64 years and 65+ years.
Country
45-54 years
55-64 years
65+ years
Australia
83.0%
63.9%
12.1%
Canada
85.7%
64.7%
13.0%
Iceland
91%
84.3%
35.3%
Japan
85.7%
69.4%
20.5%
New Zealand
87.2%
77.5%
20.6%
OECD Average
80.7%
59.7%
13.5%

Discussion question

  1. What lessons and leading practices can we learn from other countries to address employment discrimination and increase workforce participation of older Australians?

 


[5] The Australian Bureau of Statistics defines the labour force as people employed (including underemployed, full-time and part-time workers and self-employed people) and unemployed (including youth, long-term unemployed). A person who is not classified as either employed or unemployed is not in the labour force. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Labour Statistics: Concepts, Sources and Methods, 2013 (2013) Chapter 2: Currently Economically Active Population. At http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/6102.0.55.001Chapter82013 (viewed 8 May 2015).

[6] The Treasury, 2015 Intergenerational Report - Overview (2015), p 8. At http://www.treasury.gov.au/PublicationsAndMedia/Publications/2015/2015-Intergenerational-Report-Overview (viewed 22 May 2015).

[7] The Treasury, 2015 Intergenerational Report - Overview (2015), p 8. At http://www.treasury.gov.au/PublicationsAndMedia/Publications/2015/2015-Intergenerational-Report-Overview (viewed 22 May 2015).

[8] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Social Trends, Sep 2010, cat 4102.0 - Older People and the Labour Market (2010). At http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4102.0Main+Features30Sep+2010 (viewed 7 May 2015).

[9] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Social Trends, Sep 2010, cat 4102.0 - Older People and the Labour Market (2010). At http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4102.0Main+Features30Sep+2010 (viewed 7 May 2015).

[10] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Social Trends, Sep 2010, cat 4102.0 - Older People and the Labour Market (2010). At http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4102.0Main+Features30Sep+2010 (viewed 7 May 2015).

[11] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Social Trends, Sep 2010, cat 4102.0 - Older People and the Labour Market (2010). At http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4102.0Main+Features30Sep+2010 (viewed 7 May 2015).

[12] Australian Human Rights Commission Annual Report 2013-2014, p 132.

[13] Australian Human Rights Commission Annual Report 2013-2014, p 148.

[14] Australian Human Rights Commission, National prevalence survey of age discrimination in the workplace (2015), p 8. At https://www.humanrights.gov.au/our-work/age-discrimination/publications/national-prevalence-survey-age-discrimination-workplace (viewed 22 May 2015).

[15] Australian Human Rights Commission, National prevalence survey of age discrimination in the workplace (2015), p 3. At https://www.humanrights.gov.au/our-work/age-discrimination/publications/national-prevalence-survey-age-discrimination-workplace (viewed 22 May 2015).

[16] Australian Human Rights Commission, National prevalence survey of age discrimination in the workplace (2015), p 47. At https://www.humanrights.gov.au/our-work/age-discrimination/publications/national-prevalence-survey-age-discrimination-workplace (viewed 22 May 2015).

[17] 12 month averages. Australian Bureau of Statistics data cited in Department of Employment Improving the employment prospects of mature age job seekers (2015).

[18] The Treasury, 2015 Intergenerational Report: Australia in 2055 (2015), p viii. At http://www.treasury.gov.au/PublicationsAndMedia/Publications/2015/2015-Intergenerational-Report (viewed 22 May 2015).

[19] Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), OECD.StatExtracts, ‘LFS by sex and age – indicators’. At http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DatasetCode=LFS_SEXAGE_I_R# (viewed 17 April 2015). Figures have been rounded to one decimal point.