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Address to the Melbourne Corporate Champions Forum

The Hon Kate Ellis MP

Good Morning.

It is my pleasure to welcome you all to the Corporate Champions breakfast here in Melbourne.

This is an event focused on the need to boost mature aged workforce participation - but it is also to provide an offer of Government support to do that.

I hope that this event today is the start - or even better, the continuation - of a journey for your organisations. A journey towards breaking down employment barriers for mature age workers, but also, an exercise in recognising that employing mature age people makes good business sense - and can meet both goals of being the right thing to do - but also the smart thing to do.

There would not be week that goes by without me being contacted by a constituent about the problems they are having finding work as a mature age Australian. I know I am not alone in this regard. I hear a very similar story from MPs right across the country.

We are hearing from people who talk about the humiliation that they feel after being constantly overlooked. They talk about how belittling it is not to have the skills and experience that they have built up over decades of hard work recognised. They talk about feeling angry - and of being thrown on the scrap heap when they have so much more to give - and indeed so much longer to live.

Ultimately, the facts back-up these anecdotes. Whilst mature age Australians are less likely than the rest of the population to be officially unemployed, when people do find themselves out of work, it takes them over twice as long to find a new job.

This isn’t just unfair, it’s plain dumb.

As I am sure everyone is this room is well aware, that Australia is undergoing a very significant demographic change - we’re getting older.

By 2020 there will be twice as many sixty-five year olds as there were in 2009, and five times as many 85 year olds. And by 2050 there'll be 50,000 Australians who notch up a century.

Last year, over-55's were around 16 per cent of the labour force, compared with 10 per cent in 1980. And by 2050 nearly 20 per cent of the labour force will be aged over 55. That's a fifth of Australia's workers that we simply can't afford to do without.

When the pension age was set at 65 in 1908, most workers didn't live much past their 65th birthday. Now, we can expect that most people are youthful at 65, and will live for twenty or thirty years beyond retirement age.

Our longer life expectancy is a proud testament to the achievements of our nation. And it brings an enormous opportunity - both for individuals and for business. That is, or course, if we change our thinking, and change our approach.

Addressing barriers to mature age participation in the workforce is very important, right here in Melbourne; where already, the statistics show that progress is being made.

Here in Melbourne, there has been a considerable rise in the employment of mature age people. In the year to September 2012, job opportunities for people aged 50 and over increased by 3.6 per cent, to reach more than 562,000.

In addition, the employment rate for mature-age people in Melbourne stood at 69.6 per cent in September this year, above the national average of 67.9 per cent.

But it’s not all good news. While losing a job at any age can be a frightening and challenging experience, it can be even more difficult for mature age people to break back into employment. I know that mature-age people who have been retrenched, or who have been out of the labour market for extended periods, are doing it tough.

For Victoria, the average duration of unemployment for people over 55 stood at 72 weeks in September 2012. As I mentioned earlier, this period is twice as long as for younger people who find themselves unemployed. And in some cases, people give up.

These figures show that there is a compelling case for change.

This why Government is focused on programs and policies that will boost mature age participation and grow our economy.

Our commitment to breaking down barriers in this area is fierce.

Labor appointed the first Age Discrimination Commissioner in 2011 - Susan Ryan - as part of the Australian Human Rights Commission.

And we have also asked the Australian Law Reform Commissions to examine all commonwealth law for discrimination against older Australians. A report is expected next year.

And in order to better understand how government policy should break down barriers to mature age participation in the workforce, we established the Consultative Forum on Mature Age Participation - which was chaired by our MC today - the charismatic Everald Compton.

At the first Corporate Champions breakfast in Brisbane several weeks ago, I was very pleased to join with the Treasurer in releasing the forum’s final report, as well as Australia’s first national survey on the employment barriers faced by mature-age workers and job seekers.

The findings of both the report and the survey will be pivotal to policy development, and chart a positive direction for government, business, and all of Australian society in breaking down barriers for mature age workers.

The survey was an Australian first, managed by National Seniors Australia’s Productive Ageing Centre - and taken by more than 3,000 Australians aged between 45 and 74; including workers, job seekers and those not in the labour force.

The survey confirmed the lived experience of so many Australians. Many mature age workers don’t want to retire; they just want work that fits around their family responsibilities.

Attracting and retaining mature age workers is largely about flexibility - particularly for care givers.

The survey also found that age discrimination, superannuation and leisure time trade-offs are major barriers to employment.

Thankfully, all these thing can be relatively easily addressed. And we must address them if we are to fully realise the benefits of our mature age workforce.

Because those benefits are great, particularly for business.

Research shows that mature age workers can deliver an average net benefit of around $2,000 per year to their employer compared to other workers. This is due to high retention rates, lower rates of absenteeism, decreased recruitment costs and greater return on investment.

And of course, older workers are a wealth of skills, knowledge and experience.

This year, a Deloitte Access Economics Report prepared for the Human Rights Commission found that through increased mature age participation in the workforce, Australia is on track to add 2.7 per cent, or $55 billion to our economy by 2025.

But if we keep our focus on maximising mature age participation, the benefits will be much greater. A further 5 per cent increase in the mature age participation rate would grow our economy by an additional 2.4 per cent, or almost $48 billion by 2025.

Firstly, because it is the right thing to do. But secondly, because it will benefit us all, government has established a range of programs to help individuals and businesses boost mature age participation –-called Experience Plus.

In April this year, we announced $55 million over four years to help mature-age job seekers find work and to help address negative attitudes and recruitment practices toward mature-age people.

This includes $10 million for a new $1,000 Jobs Bonus for employers that recruit and retain a mature-age job seeker from a Job Services Australia provider.

And of course, businesses who sign up as Corporate Champions will receive priority access to the new Jobs Bonus.

We’re also extending the Career Advice service by to make sure mature-age people can access free, professional career advice.

And early next year, we will launch the new Mature Age Participation - Job Seeker Assistance program. Among other things, this program will facilitate IT training and paid work trials.

And only this week we have called for expressions of interest to build on our current Corporate Champions pilot program to establish a flagship $15 million partnership with industry, committed to increasing the participation of mature age workers.

This is the purpose for our meeting today.

It is a great time to sign up to become a Corporate Champion, and there are exciting opportunities for businesses that get on board.

The additional investment in Corporate Champions will expand the program from 26 organisations in the pilot program, to more than 250 new corporate champions over the next 4 years. With specialised streams for small to medium businesses, and for large businesses.

There are many benefits for employers that join the Corporate Champions program.

Corporate Champions are eligible to receive a program of tailored assistance from an industry expert, valued up to $10,000. This includes up to 10 days of face-to-face consulting services to assess your organisation.

You get a professional assessment of your organisation’s workforce demographics and recruitment and retention practices and help to develop an action plan to improve in any areas you identify as a priority.

This is where the one-on-one advice and support comes in, so you can achieve the goals of your action plan. This could include updating recruitment processes, rolling out new flexible working arrangements and implementing retention and mentoring programs.

We will share best practice examples with employers around Australia. And we already have plenty of good examples.

Employers are seeing the benefits of recruiting older workers whose skills, experience and diversity enhance workplaces and build productivity.

Many of you already employ mature-age workers and know their worth.

Corporate Champions can help you move towards best practice and get the best results for your business and for employees.

But don’t just take my word for it.

One of our existing corporate champions - Bunnings Warehouse - is here today, and Mark McLaren, Regional HR Manager will give you a first-hand insight into the advantages of becoming a Corporate Champion, and the benefits of maximising mature age worker participation.

But before Mark speaks, I would like to introduce Professor Brian Howe.

Brian is a Professorial Associate at the Centre for Public Policy at the University of Melbourne, and was Deputy Prime Minister between 1991 and 1995. During his time as a Minister, Brian was responsible for significant social policy reforms in areas including health, mental health, child support and social security. Brian has a first-hand and in-depth understanding of what’s needed to drive change in social attitudes and industry practice - I look forward to your insights today.

We are also very lucky to have Brian as a member of the Government’s Advisory Panel on Positive Aging, which is continuing the work of the Consultative Forum on Mature Age Participation. The Advisory Panel will consult with communities, employers and mature age Australians to help drive Government’s positive aging agenda. And Brian will elaborate further on the role of the Panel.

Our Government is committed to a strong economy, and to jobs.

We believe that every Australian should be able to benefit from the dignity and challenges of work.

We are absolutely committed to ensuring that age is no longer an arbitrary barrier to getting a job.

Older worker discrimination – it’s immature!

 
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