Age laws needed to stop work discrimination: Sidoti

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Age laws needed to stop work discrimination: Sidoti

The federal House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Workplace Relations has also launched an inquiry into workers over the age of 45 years, but has not yet reported.

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Federal government law was the 'weakest and most inadequate' of all Australian jurisdictions when it came to stamping out discrimination against older and younger workers and should be amended to make age discrimination in employment unlawful, according to the federal Human Rights Commissioner.

Chris Sidoti, launching 'Age Matters', a report on age-based discrimination in Australia, this week also called upon federal Attorney-General Daryl Williams to review all federal law, regulations and policy to amend or repeal clauses discriminatory on the ground of age.

The report said the Commonwealth bore ultimate responsibility for the protection of human rights in Australia, and should lead the way by modelling best law and practice. But it was lagging way behind as far as age discrimination was concerned, the report found.

At the very least, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986 should be amended to provide enforceable remedies to age-based discrimination in the workplace. 'More effectively', the report said, the Commonwealth should enact a broader Age Discrimination Act, making age-based discrimination and harassment unlawful in areas like housing, goods and services, and health care as well as employment.

Evidence from employers, unions, legal and community groups over the past year of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission inquiry which produced the report showed workers considered too young or too old were being denied promotion, employment and training because of their age.

'Ironically, people get hit at both ends of the spectrum,' Sidoti said. 'At 16 we may be thought too young to perform a certain job. Several decades on we are often judged too old.'

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry was the only group who opposed the enactment of a federal Age Discrimination Act, saying too many exemptions would make it unwieldy.

The report welcomed moves the Government has already made to address age discrimination, including removing the compulsory retirement age, but said there were still areas where age discrimination for both older and younger workers needed to be addressed.

It said a multi-pronged approach would be most effective in tackling the problems. Changes to law and policy should go hand-in-hand with community awareness and information campaigns. These could encompass:

  • Programs for employers and employees promoting the benefits of older workers
  • Employer and employee education programs on harassment and bullying of young workers
  • Media guidelines to prevent stereotypical and damaging depictions of younger and older people in the media

The report also called on the Government to continue allocating 'disadvantage points' to mature-aged job-seekers, as well as:

  • Resourcing employment agencies targeted specifically toward finding jobs for older workers
  • Reskilling older workers made redundant
  • Looking at the option of bringing forward special redundancy measures for workers aged 45 and over, if it was found that disadvantage was occurring earlier.

At the other end of the age spectrum, the report suggested targeted programs for younger, entry-level job-seekers. Junior wage rates was another area criticised, with the report saying payments based solely on age, rather than competency, were 'exploitative, not protective, and should be repealed'.

In 1999, following an inquiry by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission into junior rates, Parliament permanently exempted junior rates from anti-discriminations provisions, while providing for them to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. The Age Matters report recommended lifting the permanent exemption and another AIRC investigation into the impact of junior rates.

Particular employment laws the report recommended reviewing to examine whether age-based discrimination was justifiable include:

The Australian Defence Force came under particular scrutiny, with separate recommendations covering that area including:

  • Abolishing age-based requirements for recruiting
  • Amending age-based requirements for training and promotion to requirements based on the position
  • Abolishing age-based retirement

This week’s calls came shortly after Sidoti called for laws to make discrimination on the ground of trade union activity punishable by law (see previous story). In the Age Matters report, he reiterates calls for comprehensive federal anti-discrimination legislation covering other areas presently not unlawful, including: religion, political opinion, medical record, criminal record, social origin and sexual orientation.

The full report can be found on the HREOC website at: http://www.hreoc.gov.au

The federal House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Workplace Relations has also launched an inquiry into workers over the age of 45 years, but has not yet reported.

 
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