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New book celebrates the value of older workers

Human Rights Commission

Media Release

18 August 2005

New book celebrates the value of older workers

The active retention in the labour market of older workers beyond retirement could help ease the current skills shortage, says EEO Commissioner Dr Judy McGregor.

"Many employees aged 65 years and older are keen and will stay on at work with the right encouragement but some employers will have to change their thinking and overcome negative stereotypes about the value of mature workers."

"Some older workers want flexibility not just in hours of work per week but consideration of three day weeks or several months on and several months off during the year. At the moment some employers are not creative enough in their thinking about retention of skills. Older workers then retire at a time when we need greater labour market participation and productivity."

"I believe that Government should be paying more attention to business needs to retain older workers. Retention incentives such as piloting of phased retirement, negotiated transitions, less conventional part time and flexible work arrangements and newer ways of working, need active consideration in policy and practice."

Unions, too, had to face up to the challenge of pushing harder in bargaining processes for continuous training of workers who are likely to experience much longer working lives, Dr McGregor says.

The Human Rights Commission this week published an edited collection that celebrates the value of older workers in New Zealand. The book features thirteen New Zealanders aged in their seventies, eighties and nineties. They work either as employers, employees or as self employed well past the traditional retirement age in occupations as diverse as boat building, research science, art, teaching, truancy prevention, book dealing and conservation. The interviews challenge stereotypes about age and work at a time when society is rethinking the ageing of the labour market.

"The fall of the unemployment rate to 3.7 per cent, close to a 20 year low, means that employers have to be more creative about wooing those considering retirement to stay on in the labour market particularly when the proportion of New Zealanders over 65 years will double to 26 per cent in 2051," Dr McGregor says.

Too many older job seekers also report they feel discriminated against when applying for new jobs after the loss of employment. Professional men in their fifties and sixties were particularly vulnerable when they lost a job and tried to re-enter employment at the same level of status and remuneration.

"The recruitment industry needs to be sure that it is not engaging in either covert or overt ageism on behalf of clients. Inquiries that are made to the Human Rights Commission by older workers often suggest that recruitment agencies are biased against older people applying for jobs, even though the bias is subtle and hard to challenge."

Ensuring that mature job-seekers are eligible for the Modern Apprenticeship scheme would also allow older people to play a greater role in the New Zealand economy, Dr McGregor says.

ENDS

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