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Monday, 24 March 2003
Page: 13286

Ms VAMVAKINOU (1:35 PM) —I am pleased to rise today after seconding this motion moved by the member for Chisholm, and I join her call on the federal government to address as a matter of urgency the concerns of the mature age unemployed. In my own electorate, the families of Calwell have historically relied on the manufacturing sector for jobs. As a result we have borne a large part of the fallout from economic restructuring, which has led to massive retrenchments, contracting of jobs and the casualisation of the work force. In fact, between 1998 and 2001 some 20 percent of the 484,200 jobs lost nationally came from the manufacturing area. Double-digit unemployment is a frequent feature in my electorate, reflected in very high youth unemployment but also in significant mature age unemployment.

Unemployment for over 45-year-olds becomes a long-term struggle to achieve acceptability and relevance in a changing workplace. The efforts of people in this group are often impeded by employer attitudes that do not prefer or favour mature workers, despite their skills, experience and maturity. Ex-Ansett employees in Calwell are a sad example of this trend: despite their years of experience, they have encountered great difficulties in finding work in the aftermath of the Ansett collapse. They have faced great age discrimination and reluctance by employers who, when surveyed, often cite the fact that seniority based pay scales make the mature age unemployed too expensive to employ.

Simply put, employers do not want to pay them according to age and experience. In addition, there is a fear by some employers that a perceived preference to retire at 55 renders them unsuitable for long-term investment. The fact that many are either too skilled for the jobs going or not skilled enough makes re-employment difficult. But it is age discrimination which is by far the greatest factor in the failure to get employment by this group, where the majority are men over 45 years of age. In addition, failure by the government to provide an effective and viable long-term solution to this problem makes the plight of the mature unemployed intransigent and hopeless.

The recent round of employment service contracts illustrated again where the government continues to fail older workers. My local Job Network services, despite the constraints of their contracts, are doing a good job. But they too express concerns, constantly telling the government that increasing administrative burdens often get in the way of their helping people to find work. The lack of adequate funding and inadequate targeting of assistance to the individual needs of the client, with a breaching regime that is in desperate need of reform, mean that disadvantaged job seekers, such as the mature age unemployed, are effectively parked—and that is a term that is used often—without meaningful job placements.

By failing to provide adequately for these workers, the government has assigned them to the scrap heap. Improving skills and retraining are vital for getting and keeping work, but this government responds with lots of good intentions and too many half-measures. Leaving skilled workers to the fate of the market and the economic cycles and operating on the basis that the ageing population and assumed labour shortages would force businesses to hire more mature workers is no way to determine policy; nor is relying on state anti-age discrimination legislation to fix age discrimination a viable solution. It is a cop-out by the federal government.

In some cases, it is employers and businesses that are leading the way with programs to address age based discrimination. Last year, for example, Westpac invited mature age workers to apply for up to 900 positions in contact centres and branches. In my electorate of Calwell, we have an excellent cooperative program called Employability for Life, which is a business community partnership run by local training providers in tandem with business. It has shown a possible way forward in addressing age disadvantage. The program links long-term unemployed with local corporate leaders and officials to assist in job seeking skills, networking and vocational training. Lynne Johnson, who leads the program, claims that it is designed to enable disadvantaged and disabled community members to transform their lives by providing them with skills to succeed in the job market. The program is innovative and bold. It can match over 300 people a year with training and mentors. But no amount of training will help if there are no jobs.

Labor's solution starts with reforming the Job Network to ensure commercially viable services, early intervention, changes to the job seekers classification system and opening up access to job matching services. Labor's solution is about finding work. As the manager of my local Centrelink said to me the other day, `Training and educating workers is vital but, at the end of the day, so is a job.' Anything else is just dressing up workers without somewhere to go.