Australians are staying in the workforce longer but they often encounter age discrimination in the workplace. A new guide tells them how to get advice and help.
The ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research (CEPAR) has produced a guide to legal protections for mature workers in Australia, outlining the national and state laws that protect mature workers from discrimination and uphold their right to seek flexible work arrangements.
It also covers workplace health and safety laws that are relevant to older Australians.
“Participation rates indicate that older people are increasingly more engaged in the labour market but many challenges remain,” says Marian Baird, CEPAR chief investigator and professor of gender studies and employment relations at the University of Sydney Business School.
“Mature workers often juggle work and caring responsibilities, which are less well recognised that the child caring role faced by many younger workers.”
CEPAR says workers should seek advice if they feel they have been treated unfavourably or a policy disadvantages them due to their age.
“Advice can be obtained from the Australian Human Rights Commission, the Fair Work Ombudsman or from state and territory anti-discrimination bodies.
Almost 20 per cent of Australian workers are over 55 and this proportion is expected to rise as the population ages.
Two major barriers to older individuals remaining in or entering the workforce are ageism and rigid work contracts that don’t enable flexible arrangements, the report says.
Thirty-five per cent of Australians aged 55 to 64 have experienced age discrimination, with a high proportion of that discrimination relating to employment.
Workplace discrimination based on age is prohibited at the national level by several laws: the Australian Human Rights Commission Act, the Age Discrimination Act and the Fair Work At. States and territories also have anti-discrimination laws.
Age discrimination under the Age Discrimination Act includes direct discrimination, where a person of a particular age is treated unfavourably compared to others of a different age in a similar situation.
Or it can be indirect, where policies and practices appear to be the same for everyone but are unreasonable for certain people because of their age. An example might be requiring all job applicants to pass a physical fitness test, when it is nt necessary to perform the job.
The Fair Work Act has provisions that prevent bullying at work, which in some workplaces might be age based.
It also provides certain individuals with the right to request flexible work arrangements from employers. These arrangements might include changes to work hours, patterns of work and location of work.
The right arises where the employee is responsible for the care of a child of school age or younger; a carer; a person with a disability; aged 55 or older; experiencing domestic violence or providing support to an immediate family ember experiencing domestic violence.
A carer is defined as someone who provides care, support and assistance to another individual because that person has a disability, a medical condition, a mental illness or is aged and frail. A person is not considered a carer if they are paid for it.
The Fair Work Act also has leave entitlements that include compassionate leave and carer’s leave.