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Launch of the Willing to Work Report

Discrimination Age Discrimination



Speaking notes – report launch, Friday 28 April 2016


The Hon Susan Ryan AO, Age Discrimination and Disability Discrimination Commissioner



Good morning and welcome. I am delighted to be here today with the Attorney to launch this report, Willing to Work.

I start by acknowledging that we meet on the land of the Ngunnawal people, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.
The Commission warmly welcomed the request of the Attorney – over 12 months ago – to conduct this Inquiry into workplace discrimination against older people and people with disability.

Workplace discrimination undermines basic human rights and too many Australians are currently, because of workplace discrimination, denied the right to work.

This reality lies at the heart of our report.

The report is grounded in the voices of individuals affected by discrimination.
We have consulted widely with older people, people with disability as well as employers of all sizes and across all sectors, advocates, legal practitioners, policy experts, academics, industry representatives and unions.

Their contributions along with all relevant available data support the view that far too many older people and people with disability in Australia do not enjoy the right to work.

  • Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows that while people aged 55 years and over make up roughly a quarter of the population,[1] they only make up 16% of the total Australian workforce.[2]
  • This age cohort is the fastest growing in Australia, and will remain so for the foreseeable future.
  • Labour force participation declines sharply with age: In November 2015, 73.8% of Australians aged 55–59 years were participating in the labour force compared with 56.5% of 60–64 year olds and 12.7% of those aged 65 years and over.[3]

This sharp decline cannot be allowed to continue. The number of over 65s will double by 2055 when life expectancy will be well over 90 for both men and women.

Without the changes we recommend, people who lose their jobs in their 50’s may live up to another forty years without paid employment. Contrast that outlook with the recent ABS report showing that most people now expect to work until they are 70: they expect to, they want to, but will they find jobs?

When we turn to people with disability in Australia, in 2015, 53.4% of people with disability were participating in the labour force, compared with 83.2% of people without disability.

People with disability are more likely to be unemployed than people without disability[4] and to have longer periods of unemployment.[5]

People who are willing to work but are denied the opportunity are also denied the personal and social benefits - of dignity, independence, a sense of purpose and the social connectedness - that work brings. These personal benefits of work are even more important to people with disability who have a range of barriers to living normal lives

We found that many highly skilled individuals are being shut out of work because of underlying assumptions, stereotypes or myths associated with their age or their disability.

  • In the Australian Human Rights Commission’s 2015 National prevalence survey of age discrimination in the workplace, 27% of people over the age of 50 reported experiencing age discrimination at work.
  • A third of those who had experienced age discrimination gave up looking for work.[6]
  • In the past year, over 70% of complaints about age discrimination to the Australian Human Rights Commission were in the area of employment.

When we look at the figures for people with disability:
Almost one in 12 Australians with disability (8.6%) reported that they had experienced discrimination or unfair treatment because of their disability in the past year.

20.5% of young people with disability (aged 15-24 years) reported experiencing discrimination (20.5%).

Discrimination also has significant costs for the Australian economy.

  • Modelling has shown that a 7% increase in mature-age labour force participation would raise GDP in 2022 by approximately $25 billion[7],
  • An estimated $50 billion could be added to GDP by 2050 if Australia were to move up into the top eight OECD countries for employment of people with disability.[8]

Because of discrimination, Australian businesses are missing out on the range of skills and abilities older people and people with disability have to offer.

In an economy with serious skills shortages, this does not make sense

Organisations that are inclusive and diverse report tangible benefits in terms of productivity, performance and innovation.

Inquiry’s findings

Employment discrimination as revealed in our inquiry is systemic and requires action at multiple levels.

  • At the individual level, attitudes and beliefs need to change. Attitudes can be changed. Well focussed and sustained community education and awareness campaigns have changed entrenched attitudes and behaviours, for example, reducing smoking, wearing seat belts and using sun screen.
  • The Inquiry also learned there is a pervasive lack of understanding among employers of the range, type and impact of different disabilities, and a perception that workplace adjustments are costly and difficult.
  • Some government policies are creating disincentives to workforce participation, and some programs and subsidies to encourage businesses to employ older workers or workers with disability have limited impact.

The recommendations

Our Willing to Work report contains 56 recommendations, which are designed to foster a broad national approach, and collaborative engagement with employers and employees.

Some priority commitments for government include:

  • establishing a Minister for Longevity,
  • implementing and reporting on national workforce strategies to lift the labour force participation of older Australian’s and Australian’s with disability;
  • adopting targets for employment of older people and people with disability within the public service;
  • and expanding the role of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency to become the Workplace Gender Equality and Diversity Agency.

The report also presents strategies which could be adopted by businesses and employers.

We have based many of these recommendations on examples of good practice identified over the course of the past year.

There are many businesses out there that recognise the diverse skills and abilities of older Australians and Australians with disability, and have developed innovative recruitment and work practices

For example, Crown Casino have developed the CROWNability disability employment program. The program’s goals are to create employment opportunities for people with disability, to achieve sustainable job outcomes and to be a disability confident organization. Through this program, Crown Resorts hope to achieve a target of employing three people with disability per month.

Accor Hotel Group have developed an ‘Experienced Worker’ work experience program for people over the age of 60, and report excellent results.

And this year, the NSW Public Service became the latest large employer to have announced the introduction of an ‘all roles flex’ policy, with Premier Mike Baird announcing on International Women’s Day this year that 100% of NSW public service jobs will be flexible by 2019 on the basis of ‘if not, why not’.

And we have all heard of Bunnings stunning business success based to a significant extent on their high levels of employment of older workers.

The Inquiry’s recommendations are cognisant of the realities of the needs of the national economy now and through future decades.

We must ensure that skilled older workers in sectors that are shrinking, such as car manufacturing or coal mining, are not forced into long-term unemployment or involuntary early retirement.

The key to supporting such workers is access to effective skills training that will lead them into growth sectors and jobs that actually exist.

There are new jobs in Australia, plenty of them, for example in the growth of robotics and IT, renewable energy, the expanding aged care sector, and even the latest submarine building program.

This massive project is expected to create 2,800 Australian jobs. Some of these jobs will be opportunities that older workers, appropriately retrained, should be able to take up. Here I have in mind accelerated mature age apprenticeships. 

Of course what works for large companies may not be achievable for SMEs.

For small businesses owners, greater access to customised support and information will help them employ older people and people with disability whose skills can contribute to their business.

We have recommended further review or change to some existing laws.

The rules around workers compensation and insurance, especially income maintenance insurance can act as barriers to people continuing their employment.

In relation to existing anti-discrimination laws, we have proposed some changes in matters of definitions, and improving simplicity for individuals claiming discrimination on a number of protected grounds, egg, age and disability, or gender and age.

We suggest that some Fair Work provisions in relation to flexibility of hours and unfair dismissal on the grounds of discrimination are due for review.

So we have proposed a few measures of law reform, but most of the report goes to reform of the labour market- to attitudes, policies and practices at all stages of employment.

I am confident that the changes we propose are realistic. They are evidence based and already in place in some workplaces.

This Report is a reflection of the contributions of many people and I am grateful to those who took the time to attend a consultation, write a submission and assist the Inquiry.
Of course I acknowledge and thank the inquiry team at the AHRC.

I trust that the findings and recommendations of this Inquiry will spark action and commitment and intensify efforts to address employment discrimination against older people and people with disability so that all those who are willing to work can work.

We all stand to gain.

[1] In 2009-10, there were around 5.5 million Australians aged 55 years and over, making up one quarter of the population. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Social Trends, Sep 2010, cat 4102.0 — Older People and the Labour Market (2010). At (viewed 26 April 2016).

[2] In 2009-10, people aged 55 years and over made up 16% of the total labour force, up from around 10% three decades earlier. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Social Trends, Sep 2010, cat 4102.0 — Older People and the Labour Market (2010). At (viewed 26 April 2016).

[3] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Labour Force, Detailed — Electronic Delivery, November 2015 (Cat. No. 6291.0.55.001).

[4] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: First Results, 2015 (Cat. No. 4430.0.10.001). At

[5] People with disability were significantly more likely to still be looking for a job 13 weeks or longer after they first started (65.5%) compared with those without disability (56.1%), Australian Bureau of Statistics, Disability and Labour Force Participation, 2012 (2015). At (viewed 17 March 2016).

[6] Australian Human Rights Commission, National prevalence survey of age discrimination in the workplace (2015), 33. At (viewed 1 February 2016).

[7] Grattan Insitute, Game-Changers: Economic reform priorities for Australia, Grattan Institute Report No. 2012-5, June, 2012, 50-52 at (viewed 26 April 2016).

[8] PricewaterhouseCoopers, Disability expectations: Investing in a better life, a stronger Australia (2011), 26.

The Hon Susan Ryan AO, Age Discrimination Commissioner

See Also

Discrimination Age Discrimination

Maximising the contribution of ageing Australians in our society and workplace

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