22 February 2021


SUBJECT: The silent crisis facing older workers.

MURRAY JONES, HOST: They’re calling it the silent crisis facing older workers. Now, this has been an ongoing issue here Australia. But of course with the pandemic and employment becoming more and more difficult for so many people, Australians aged 55 to 64 years of age about 20% of them are jobless. And unfortunately, there's a large percentage of people that also become involuntarily retired. That's at a difficult one to process and I guess consider because there's certainly some hairs on that particular title. To talk a little bit more about it this morning, Stephen Jones. He's the shadow assistant Treasurer and Shadow Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation. A difficult subject but good morning Stephen, how are you today?

STEPHEN JONES, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: I'm well, good morning and good to be with you. Good morning to your listeners.

MURRAY JONES: Mate, so it's quite an interesting release that's been provided to me this morning. And I guess it really simplifies it. And coming back to that twenty percent of older workers are jobless and it really is an issue, not just for those people. It really impacts communities as well.

STEPHEN JONES: Look it really does, you know. If we're living longer as Australians, and somebody who’s born in the last decade is expected to live well into their 90's, we've got to be able to tackle this issue of older unemployment. If 20 percent of people over the age of 55 without a job, then that’s a big societal problem. And lying at the heart of a fair bit of this? Involuntary retirement. Involuntary redundancy, and people struggling to get another job because they're disadvantaged and they're discriminated against in the labour market. We've got a crack for this. The first step in cracking through it is putting a spotlight on the problem. That’s why I'm calling it a silent crisis, because I think we've got to talk about it. And the first step of getting some solutions are getting people to sit up and say yeah, we got a problem here.

MURRAY JONES: Now look, you know, I guess if we’re talking about the raw facts, unfortunately that age group may not be the best looking, you know, section of society.

STEPHEN JONES: Steady on! Steady on!

MURRAY JONES: But let's talk about the fact that they're often very settled, you know with respect to where they live. And they've often got very good experience. But I guess there's these other factors that often work against that particular age group?

STEPHEN JONES: That's right. What we find is once you hit you your middle to late 50s, you've probably got a home, you've got family connections. A lot of the group that we're looking at have had to leave work to spend more time at home for caring responsibilities, maybe a partner, a husband or a wife, or maybe a parent who just can't look after themselves. So they’ve had to leave work, either permanently or go part-time, to look after a carer. They're not able to just quickly just you know pick up and move to another town because they've got deep ties with the community and family in one place. So that creates more rigidity. So much of our assumptions around how labour markets work just assumes that people can pick up and move and move from one town to another. And that's simply not the case. For people, particularly for people up in Cairns and Northern Queensland in more remote areas, they have deep ties to the community, and maybe they can't afford to go and in live in another town particularly if they don't own house or property as well. So we've got to have solutions to break through a bunch of these problems. Discrimination in the workplace is one of them and lack of mobility is another.

MURRAY JONES: Okay I guess we're talking about the reality, and coming back to society and when it comes to the rising cost of healthcare just the cost of living, and obviously having enough money as you're heading towards the age of retirement, you know, that really causes a wider burden in society. And look you know it’s something that we've talked about quite a bit in recent years, about one in three single women aged over 60 live in poverty. Often they live in their cars. It is a difficult thing to deal with. What type of solutions are we talking about moving forward to deal with this, I guess, this systemic issue?

STEPHEN JONES: Well for that group that you're dealing with, maybe it's been a relationship breakdown, or family breakup, maybe there’s domestic violence involved. We need more crisis accommodation available to transition those people into more permanent accommodation. So getting crisis accommodation is absolutely critical for those women, and blokes, who find themselves in that situation. But the data is pretty clear. There's a big growth in the number of women who are homeless over the age of 50. So that’s like an urgent job of work mate. A wealthy country like ours, if we can't tackle the problem of people living in their cars because they don't have a roof over our heads, we should hang our head in shame. So that's one job of work. I'd go on and say can we just get off the table this idea we're going to knock people down to $40 a day in a few weeks time? And that's the current settings, unemployment benefits set to cut to $40 a day from the current elevated rate through covid-19 crisis. Now, if you're in Cairns you're not feeling the fact that maybe the economy is improving. It might look like an improvement on paper, but where you're living it's not because the international tourism, and the tourism market, is still pretty cook. So we're going to need support for regions like this. That includes the unemployment benefit at a liveable rate. And it includes ensuring that we don't just knock people off Job Keeper without any transition arrangements in place. There’s two things. And can we also keep politicians honest to the promises they made? At the last election Scott Morrison promise not to cut superannuation. He is now planning to do it and we've got to push back on that strongly because people simply don't have enough money to retire on at the moment. And superannuation is supposed to be the retirement nest egg. Most people don't have enough. So we've got to ensure that we deliver what we promised so that Australians get enough money to live in dignity in retirement.

MURRAY JONES: I mean after the pandemic, you know sure that there's certainly been some sectors that have been hit pretty hard and you know, we have to tighten our belt to a degree. But at the end of the day, you know, I guess by most indicators the economy is working fairly well. So moving forward, this type of investment into that age group has got to pay dividends you know, I guess in the long term. If we look at the long-term thinking, looking up this age group that is you know, facing some real challenges, it's going to pay dividends, do you agree?

STEPHEN JONES: Look it absolutely does. I look at her like this, if you've had 30, 35 years in the workforce, 40 years in the workforce, and your head to mid 50s, I like to look at those people are skilled and experienced and being a lot of things to bring to the workplace. And I'd encourage employers to look at them and say, well, they're an asset, and I should be trying to have that group as a part of my workforce. I’ll single out one employer who is actually really good at it. You wander through the aisles in Bunnings, and you'll see a lot of older workers there and they might be ex-tradies. They'll be ex-tradies who maybe their knees aren’t so good or their back isn't as good as it once was or their skin’s given up. They've got a wealth of advice. They can tell me, the weekend warrior, you know, what screws and bolts are made for the job that I'm working on. And that's just one example of how we can be thinking smart about the abilities that older workers have. So let's look after their income, let's deal with discrimination in the workplace. Let's fix up the super. Let's ensure that the Government funded job networks are doing the job they are supposed to be doing and helping these older workers who have found themselves out of work, back into a job.

MURRAY JONES: And of course, it's something that I guess, you know with the age group of the age group of our listeners, our listenership, I'm sure all of the things we've discussed this this morning have hit home. Very much the case. Stephen Jones is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer and Shadow Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation, great to talk to you. And I tell you what despite my quip at the beginning of our interview, you're pretty good-looking over the phone, Stephen!

STEPHEN JONES: (Hearty laugh) People would say to both of us, we’ve got a pretty great face for radio Murray!