Pitch to raise awareness on age discrimination

Sue Simpson
Research Officer

Federation has written to Department of Education and Communities Secretary Dr Michelle Bruniges seeking meetings to discuss measures to address age discrimination.

These measures include the provision of information to staff on age discrimination, more flexible work provisions and strategies to deal with intergenerational conflict.

At Federation’s March Council Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan acknowledged that while there are laws against age discrimination, the solution lies in challenging “deeply held and heavily entrenched attitudes within the labour market … age discrimination is the result of serious and deeply embedded prejudice in our society. It is as pernicious and damaging as sexism or racism or disability discrimination”.

Older teachers have reported difficulties in accessing professional development and feelings of invisibility as interview panels seem to favour younger, more compliant applicants. Similarly younger teachers have reported feeling overpowered by older teachers who think they know best. These can all be features of age discrimination; establishing incontrovertible evidence, however, can be difficult. At the very least, managing the relations between different generations in the one workplace is a challenge that requires close attention. Even false perceptions poison the workplace atmosphere.

Older teachers, particularly older women teachers, are going to be working longer because of economic necessity as pension ages rise and because they want to. But they face strong anti-older teacher prejudice and myths about the capabilities and true role of older people.

Ms Ryan said older women teachers can be subjected not just to age stereotypes but also to gender stereotypes that “combine to create a culture where older women are expected to retire earlier, often to assume carer roles”.

Ms Ryan called for an end to ageist attitudes and practices in the employment and recruitment systems of the teaching profession. She cited the DEC’s 2018 projections for the teaching workforce, where it is assumed that the bulk of older teachers will simply retire at 55 years, “something it seems to see as natural and inevitable”. Ms Ryan said: “This is an expectation that can discriminate against older teachers who are capable of and willing to continue working.”

She stated that with an ageing society, experienced teachers need to be valued and therefore encouraged to stay active in the workforce for as long as possible. Not only are more teachers staying on longer but more teachers are beginning their teaching careers later in life.

The Federal Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s Women’s economic security in retirement Perspective Paper has also called for measures to increase older women’s workforce participation in order to reduce the gender pay gap and in particular the gender pay gap in superannuation. The gender pay gap has remained relatively unchanged over the past 20 years at about 17 per cent. On average, women’s superannuation balances at retirement are less than two-thirds of men’s.

The Agency has noted that many women in their 40s and 50s returning to careers “may face workplace discrimination on the basis of sex that is exacerbated by ageist attitudes among employers and colleagues”. The Agency noted that “women tend to marry older men, and women who are in paid employment when their older partners retire can feel pressured to retire at the same time, and thereby lose their opportunities to accrue extra superannuation on their behalf”. The removal of discriminatory practices in recruitment and retention is important, as is also the provision of flexible working arrangements to help all employees meet caring responsibilities while continuing in paid employment.

At the moment, flexible work arrangements are more accepted for women with young children.

Teachers can help dispel older worker myths