Older workers face unemployment crisis exacerbated by JobMaker, experts warn
Carmel Beattie’s last job was in the Cook Islands, a “Pacific paradise” where, she says, older workers are respected and revered.
“Working in the Pacific, the older you are the more you are venerated,” the former CEO of Cook Islands Tourism says.
“Because the older you are, the more knowledge you’ve gained, the more experience you’ve gained and, in general, the society values you to a greater extent.”
That’s not her experience back home in Australia.
Since returning here two-and-a-half years ago, in her early 60s, Carmel Beattie says she has applied for “upwards of 300 jobs”.
“It was just a series of closed doors. Most of the time I haven’t even received a reply to say ‘thanks, but no thanks.'”
This despite an illustrious resume, including a series of senior tourism marketing roles in Australia and abroad.
Her experience is symptomatic of rampant age discrimination in the Australian labour market, says Professor Marian Baird, who heads work and organisational studies at the University of Sydney.
JobMaker may see older workers ‘abandoned’
And the barriers facing mature-age job seekers could get bigger, with concerns that a scheme announced in the Federal Budget to subsidise the hiring of younger people out of work could come at the cost of jobs for older Australians.
The Government is offering employers a “hiring credit” if they employ younger workers on JobSeeker or youth allowance: $200 a week for workers aged 16 to 29 and $100 a week for workers aged 30 to 35.
The case for such a scheme is in the official payroll data released by the ABS. It shows workers in their 20s have suffered the biggest share of job losses.
Yet there has also been a high proportion of jobs lost by workers in their 60s and older — and mature-age workers were heavily represented among the ranks of jobless even before the recession struck.
Professor Baird says the hiring credit provides an incentive for employers to “cherrypick people of a certain age” and will encourage employment of younger job seekers over older job seekers — a bias deliberately built into the design.
She also fears it could encourage employers to “abandon older people in the labour market.
“So, you could substitute someone who is 40 with someone who is 22.”
The government is putting in place controls designed to stop employers replacing older, more expensive workers with younger, cheaper workers who attract the subsidy.
Under the scheme, a business will only be eligible to receive the hiring credit at the end of each quarter if it has increased its headcount and payroll.
The requirement is designed to ensure that the incentive creates additional jobs.
Yet labour market experts say it will be difficult to stop employers from ditching older workers in favour of younger recruits whose costs are heavily subsidised by the hiring credit, especially in larger workplaces which use a lot of casual workers who churn in and out of jobs.
“In practice, it will be difficult to police,” says Professor Andrew Stewart, an employment law specialist at the University of Adelaide.
There are also concerns about the quality of jobs the scheme will create.
Professor Baird says it’s “a recipe for casualisation” because employers are only required to hire people for an average of 20 hours a week over a quarter to qualify for the subsidy.
“Someone could work 30 or 40 hours a week, none the next,” she says. “There’s no indication jobs have to be permanent or ongoing.”
‘I could lose my job’
Sofia Floros, 57, lives at Delahey in outer Melbourne.
Her husband, Jim, recently lost his job at 59 years of age after working for 10 years as a “casual, full-time”.
The family now relies on Sofia’s income as a school cleaner — and they’re doing it tough.
She worries what the wages subsidy for hiring younger people will mean for her husband’s prospects, and her own.
“I could lose my job,” she says.
She tears up as she tells the ABC, “it plays on my mind every day. Every day. Not only for to me, but to a lot of other people my age.
“I know a lot of people who are working really hard to pay the mortgage, kids, bills, and as soon as we get a bit older nobody wants to have anything to do with us. Why? We contribute to the community all these years.”
Initially, job losses in the “corona recession” were concentrated among younger workers and women, but that’s changing.
The pattern of past recessions is that a big cohort of older workers, especially men, tend to lose their jobs — and many never work again.
And that pattern is starting to repeat in the latest payroll data from the ABS.