Wage subsidy for the young marks the coming of ageism

| October 15, 2020

There is no doubt the Federal Government’s new JobMaker package provides a cocktail of the right ingredients to give young Australians a real chance of making the transition from welfare into the workplace.

But that win will come at the expense of thousands of unemployed older Australians who have also become part of COVID-19’s job carnage.

The JobMaker Hiring Credit will enable eligible employers to claim $200 a week for each additional eligible employee aged 16 to 29 years and $100 a week for each additional eligible employee aged 30 to 35 years.

No wage subsidy exists for new hires aged 36 years and over – making older workers a more expensive proposition for already cash-strapped businesses.

For years, those in their 40s, 50s and 60s have unfairly faced ageist attitudes in the workplace.

Often inaccurately labelled as uncomfortable with technology, resistant to change, slow to learn and more prone to illness and injury, older workers have faced significant hurdles when attempting to re-enter the workplace after a period of unemployment.

Ask most older workers who have sought to re-enter the workforce and you will hear that recruiters have told them they are overqualified, too senior for the role, not the right cultural fit and that others were a better match to the job description and requirements.

But more often than not this is just corporate speak for “we think you are too old for the job”.

While the JobMaker Hiring Credit is well intentioned, it will spread the tentacles of workplace age discrimination wider and deeper by making older workers more expensive.

Those in their 40s, 50s and 60s have often found themselves hit the grey ceiling when they try to get back into the workplace. Now even those in their mid to late 30s can expect to be slammed against the same barrier.

History tells us that during a prolonged employment crisis the focus has invariably been on high rates of joblessness among young people.

Less noticed, but no less significant to the economy, has been the plight of those in the 40-plus age bracket – despite the 40s and 50s age bracket long being considered workers’ prime years for building their wealth.

Not only do many in these age brackets have financial commitments including paying off mortgages, raising children or perhaps providing financial support to elderly parents, they must save for their retirement.

None of this is possible without employment.

The  wage subsidy will see some unemployed older workers, who have already faced countless knock-backs when trying to secure employment in the current job market, forced into early retirement.

While many in that category were striving for self-funded retirement, it is likely they will now access the aged pension on a permanent basis.

Some employers will continue to recognise that older workers offer a package of highly favourable and attractive workplace characteristics including loyalty, stability, reliability, leadership and maturity, which offer better value for money than the JobMaker subsidy on offer.

But many will be seeking to minimise expenses at all costs and prioritise jobs for those in their teens, 20s and early 30s over older workers.

While the Federal Government must be applauded for its effort to stimulate the economy and making jobs the centrepiece of the nation’s COVID-19 recovery, the JobMaker Hiring Credit – left unchanged – will be a chink in the armour of the economic battle that lies ahead of us.

At the very minimum, there is a pressing need to replace existing criteria based on age to include eligibility based on real barriers to entry or re-entry to the workplace, such as the length of time an individual has been unemployed.

Such a system would be fairer, less discriminatory and most likely have a greater impact on employment rates than one that seeks to have employers prioritise younger workers over their older counterparts.

How does your business support mature workers?

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One Comment

  1. Avatar

    Judi Giddings

    October 21, 2020 at 12:33 pm

    Well said Gary. I’m in my sixties. I’m physically and mentally fit. Have gained a wide range of professional experience and academic qualifications during my career – in fact I am still upskilling at my own expense. Having just moved to WA from Victoria I am told there is a skill shortage here at the moment, particularly in rural areas. I will step down several levels to get back in the workforce as I’m a strong believer in the fact that if you are worthy you will be promoted. It will be interesting to see if I am given an opportunity to prove my worth.