Older workforce faces age discrimination

Men in their 50s are the most likely to report discrimination in the workplace, as a new survey finds older employees are being dumped, denied training and even verbally abused by colleagues.

The Financial Services Council research says nearly a third of older workers say they are being discriminated against at work.

The council says the problem needs to be addressed because too few Australians have enough superannuation to leave the workforce.

David Bickett, who returned to Australia from the UK after working in telecommunications for four years, says his age is making it harder for him to find a job.

“I thought things would be a little bit more flexible in the way in which people looked at these things, but it doesn’t appear to be so,” he said.

“One of the key issues has been age in itself.

“I am in my 50s. I find that when I go and talk to people, more often than not they are saying ‘well, you know, we are really looking for somebody who we can take on and move onto to another position, or culturally, you know, we are a young organisation’.”

Shift in attitude

Financial Services Council chief executive John Brogden says there needs to be a huge shift in attitudes towards older workers.

“If I said to you in the 1960s that in 30 and 40 years’ time women will be able to enter the workforce, they’ll be able to leave to have a child, they’ll be able to come back, they’ll leave to have another child and come back, you would laugh at me,” he said.

“You would have thought it was incomprehensible that workplaces could be that flexible.

“Here we are 40 years later and workplaces not only are that flexible, in fact, they want that sort of flexibility.”

Mr Brogden says workplaces need to have a similar revolution when it comes to valuing the skills and experience of older workers.

One area the study identified where older workers are particularly disadvantage is in the area of IT.


Mr Brogden says workplaces can be more flexible for older works by providing them with training opportunities.

“I can imagine there are a lot of older workers who aren’t getting the updated skills on IT, but it is also broader training. It is development training, management training,” he said.

“Those sorts of opportunities that are provided in the workplace increasingly aren’t being given to older people because clearly the assessment is being made: ‘why would we invest in them, they are in 50s or they are going to retire soon or they are stuck in middle management, they are not being promoted’.”

Mr Brogden says workplaces should not assume that because an older Australian has been working for 35 years that they are not willing to change.

Older workers are not the only ones who say they have faced discrimination.

The Fair Work Ombudsman’s most recent figures, from financial year 2009-10, show there were 1,171 complaints in total.

A total of 20 per cent of those were based on physical or mental disability, 13 per cent were based on age and 12 per cent were based on family or carer responsibilities.

Eight per cent of complaints were based on gender or pregnancy.