When I was in my mid-30s, the youthful copy assistants on my newspaper would
tease me by putting press releases from the Council on the Ageing in my pigeon
"Why have I been given this stuff from the council on the ageing?"
"We just put the releases where we think they should go," was the reply.
More water has passed under the bridge since then, with the current set of
copy assistants looking very young indeed, and I am edging towards that demographic
group that society discriminates strongly against - anyone over 50.
One piece of this strong discrimination was abolished recently. A section
of the corporations law that requires directors on a company board older than
72 to meet various tests, such as gaining a 75 per cent majority when elected
to the board, has been repealed. But there remains very strong discrimination
against anyone over 50 - particularly males - a discrimination that has gone almost
unnoticed by a media that screams endlessly about Aborigines and ethnic groups.
This discrimination is practiced mainly by employers and takes the form of being
very reluctant indeed to hire anyone above that age.
Don't believe this? Just try being above 50 and looking for a job, especially
in the unskilled or semi-skilled categories. Those with skills have
more chance of finding employment, but are still not in a comfortable
position if they should, perhaps through no fault of their own,
find themselves out of work. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence
for this prejudice. The Council on the Ageing (Australia), now the
Councils on the Ageing (COTA)
and National Senior Association (okay, I eventually had cause
to speak to them) say that whenever they are mentioned in the media
they get calls from older, unemployed workers telling them how hard
it is to find job.
There have also been studies. A survey undertaken for the Department
of Family and Community Services and released in February last year
as part of a report entitled The
Recruitment of Older Australian Workers: A survey of Employers in
a High Growth Industry (pdf 657kb) shows that employers
overwhelmingly preferred to hire people under 45.
In addition, Australian Bureau of Statistics surveys indicate that
the workforce participation rates for workers, particularly men
aged 45 and over, dropped sharply during the 1970s and, although
there has since been some reversal - discounting a recession or
two in which older workers suffer disproportionately - participation
rates for older men, those over 55, are similar to their 15-19 year
old grandsons and daughters. The employment experience for women
is different. Their participation rates are lower but have been
increasing in all age groups. A far more detailed discussion of
these trends can be found in Structural
ageing, labour market adjustment and the tax/transfer system
by David Ingles.
Ingles also points to studies indicating entrenched employer prejudice
against older workers. An article by two academics at La Trobe University's
Graduate school of Management in Melbourne recently published in
the Australasian Journal
on Ageing, a COTA publication, also points to considerable
discrimination by employers against older workers.
A proportion of these apparently forgotten workers shown by the figures noted
above are voluntary drop outs. For a time it was common for ex-service personnel,
policemen and public servants to claim permanent disability due to "stress"
from work, take a payout, and move to a beach house. For that matter, retrenched
workers have been known to collect their generous payouts, sell out of the housing
markets in the capital cities and head for the cheap housing of, say, Broken Hill,
to take up painting.
But there are also many older workers who want full-time work
who have to take part-time or nothing at all. In the DFCS survey
employers did not, or could not, give any reason for their reluctance
to hire older workers, apart from a general feeling that those above
45 are generally likely to cause more problems than those under
that age. There is no evidence to support that attitude, incidentally.
Employers are prejudiced, plain and simple.
From my own experience I can recall one journalist I knew working on suburban
newspapers in Melbourne in the early 1980s who reported on the police strike and
remembered the gangster Squizzy Taylor - events and characters of 50 years previously.
"Taylor was just a police informer; that's all he was," he told
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