Willing to work: older workers and people with disability

Did you know that some 4.2 million Australians are reported as having a disability? Yet the labour force participation rate for people with a disability is 52.8%, compared with 82.5% for people without disability (read our previous Blog post).

Australia also has an ageing population. The 2015 Intergenerational Report projects that the proportion of the population aged 65 and over will more than double by 2054-55. Currently, 16% of the total labour force is over 55 years of age.

After completing an extensive inquiry into the barriers preventing mature-aged people and people with disability from entering and remaining in the workforce, the Australian Human Rights Commission, under Age and Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Susan Ryan AO, have released their recommendations in a Willing to Work Report.

These recommendations have not yet been implemented, but employers should understand what could soon be on the table to not only boost workforce participation but also alter employment obligations to older workers and people with disability.

Key recommendations from the Report affecting employers include:

Employer Incentives

  • The provision of tax or other financial incentives to encourage businesses and employers to adopt health and wellbeing initiatives;
  • Information programs building employer awareness of available government support through Disability Employment Services, JobAccess, the Employment Assistance Fund and the National Disability Recruitment Co-ordinator;
  • Streamlining employer access to funding for job and workplace adjustments paid for directly by Job Access;
  • Expanding access to support for small-to-medium sized enterprises from the National Disability Recruitment Coordinator; and
  • The promotion of leading practice initiatives employers can adopt to assist the employment and retention of older workers and people with disability.

Broader structural changes

  • Appointing a new Cabinet Minister for Longevity with specific responsibility for Australia’s ageing population;
  • Expanding the role of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) to become the Workplace Gender Equality and Diversity Agency, which would collect data from employers and publicly report on progress against voluntary targets;
  • Reviewing Government procurement principles that may require employers to demonstrate commitment to diversity through the implementation of:
    • Workforce diversity strategies;
    • Non-discriminatory recruitment and retention practices for older workers and workers with disability;
    • Setting and reporting on voluntary targets for the employment and retention of older workers and workers with disability.

A number of recommendations have also been directed at changing employment laws, including:

  • Changing federal discrimination laws to:
    • adopt the “no detriment test” used in ACT discrimination legislation to replace the current “comparator test”;
    • enable applicants to more easily demonstrate discrimination where more than one ground of discrimination is alleged (eg age and disability);
  • Creating obligations on employers to provide a positive duty to eliminate discrimination and promote substantive equality in the workplace;
  • Reviewing whether Disability Employment Standards need to form part of the Disability Discrimination Act;
  • Enabling representative bodies to have standing in commencing legal proceedings under federal discrimination law; and
  • Asking the Fair Work Commission to review:
    • Whether the “right to request” flexible work arrangements under the National Employment Standards is achieving its intended objectives;
    • Whether the 21-day time limit for the filing of unfair dismissal and general protections is promoting efficiency and access to justice.

Ai Group is interested in hearing from members about the Report’s recommendations, including how and whether the recommendations should be implemented.

For further information about the Report, or to provide your feedback, please contact Nicola Street, National Manager – Workplace Relations Policy.

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As Ai Group's National Manager – Workplace Relations Policy, Nicola is involved in employment test cases and law reform affecting the workplaces of industry. She regularly appears in the Fair Work Commission and Government Inquiries on behalf of Ai Group members, and has many years of “on the ground” strategic experience in advising employers in employment law and people & culture strategies.

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