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At the barricades again: boomers fight age prejudice

By Malcolm King - posted Monday, 9 July 2012

Everyone who reads this article is on a journey to old age. It is the golden thread - the one common denominator - that runs through our lives.

In the late 1960s in America and Australia, the civil rights movement won major battles over race and sex prejudice. I remember Dr Martin Luther King's 'I have a Dream' speech. Its cadence was the drumbeat of emancipation.

Indigenous Australians were allowed to vote; in America, black people were no longer consigned to the back of the bus and women broke the chains of a sexual apartheid that kept them silent and shackled to the kitchen.


But who would have thought that members of the boomer generation, who fought to end social injustice in the 1960s, would today suffer the humiliation of age prejudice?

As a nation are we forever doomed to ostracise our most experienced workers because of their birthdate? So that today, managers and staff in there 30s and 40s, will suffer the same fate as their parents, ad infinitum?

The recent release of the 2011 census data shows that Australians are getting older, with the median Australian now aged 37.3 years - a sharp rise from 32.4 years in 1991. The proportion of Australians who are 65+ has grown from 11.3 per cent in 1991 to 13.8 per cent in 2011.

We are growing older but not wiser.

Unfortunately large sectors of the HR industry still work on the outdated premise that older people are 'experienced but high risk and inefficient'. Whereas younger people are 'inexperienced and compliant'. This insults both older and younger workers or job seekers.

The over all passivity of recruiters to the largest and most politically damaging attack on their efficacy and brand is baffling. They talk the talk but do little else.


The Australian Council of Trade Unions in a recent submission to the Australian Law Reform Commission, called on employers to provide more flexible working hours for older workers.

Currently, the right to flexible working arrangements such as shorter hours, days off or early or late starts, is restricted to parents of preschool children and those who care for a disabled person aged under 16.

It is estimated that about 50 percent of the two million boomers will continue to work past 65 but what sort of future awaits them?

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About the Author

Malcolm King is a journalist and professional writer. He was an associate director at DEEWR Labour Market Strategy in Canberra and the senior communications strategist at Carnegie Mellon University in Adelaide. He runs a writing business called Republic.

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