Age Barriers to Work—Culturally and Linguistically Diverse People

What is this information sheet about?

This information sheet discusses the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) Age Barriers to Work Inquiry. It outlines some of the ALRC’s key recommendations aimed at removing barriers to workforce participation for mature age people, including mature age people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds. Further detail about these recommendations can be found in Access All Ages—Older Workers and Commonwealth Laws, ALRC Report 120 (2013) which is available for free download at

Mature age people and cultural and linguistic diversity

The Terms of Reference for the ALRC’s Inquiry defined ‘older persons’ as anyone over the age of 45 years. There is significant diversity among this age bracket. This diversity affects the needs and priorities of older people.

In 2006, over 1.1 million people aged 50 years and older were born in non-English speaking or culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) countries. This amounted to 19% of the total Australian population in this age group. People born in CALD countries are relatively older than those born in Australia. In 2006, more than 42% of people born in CALD countries were aged 50 years and older (National Seniors Productive Ageing Centre, The Ageing Experience of Australians from Migrant Backgrounds (2011), 11).

What was the Inquiry about?

The Commonwealth Attorney-General asked the ALRC to review Commonwealth laws and identify the improvements that could be made to Commonwealth laws to remove barriers to older persons participating in the workforce. The ALRC looked at a number of areas of Commonwealth law, including recruitment, employment, insurance, workers’ compensation, social security and superannuation and made 36 recommendations for reform.

What did the ALRC recommend?

National Workforce Participation Plan

The main recommendation in the Report is for a National Mature Age Workforce Participation Plan. This plan will provide a coordinated policy response to address barriers to participation by mature age people in the Australian labour market. The ALRC recommended that this Plan should take into account the different experiences and needs of mature age workers. Initiatives under the Plan should be tailored to meet the particular needs of employees and employers as well as specific cohorts of mature age people, including culturally and linguistically diverse people.

See Recommendation 3–1

Review and amendment of recruitment industry Codes of Conduct

Mature age job seekers face multiple and intersecting difficulties in entering or re-entering the paid workforce. The ALRC emphasised that recruitment agencies can play an important role in facilitating the employment of mature age workers.

The ALRC recommended that the Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI) and the Recruitment and Consulting Services Association Australia and New Zealand (RCSA) consider ways in which the AHRI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct and RCSA Code for Professional Conduct could emphasise:

  1. the importance of client diversity, including mature age job seekers;
  2. constructive engagement with mature age job seekers; and
  3. obligations under age-related anti-discrimination and industrial relations legislation.

The ALRC emphasised that such reviews also provide a timely opportunity to consider intersectional discrimination and difficulties faced by mature age job seekers from CALD backgrounds.

See Recommendations 4–1 and 4–2

Flexible working arrangements

The ALRC recommended that, under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), all employees who have caring responsibilities should have the right to request flexible working arrangements. This would provide mature age workers with the right to request flexible working arrangements to accommodate their caring responsibilities and address a key barrier to ongoing workforce participation for many people, including people from CALD backgrounds. 

The ALRC is aware that provisions such as the right to request may be unfamiliar concepts for mature age people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and that people may lack the confidence to assert their rights. The ALRC recommended that the Fair Work Ombudsman amend material relevant to negotiating and implementing such arrangements to include information for mature age workers, and noted the importance of ensuring such material is accessible for all members of the community—including people from CALD backgrounds.

See Recommendations 4–5 and 4–6

Access to information about insurance products

The key barriers for mature age workers appear to arise in relation to income protection insurance, travel insurance and volunteer insurance. Stakeholders expressed concern about access to information about insurance products relevant for mature age workers, The ALRC recommended that the Insurance Reform Advisory Group, or a similar body, consider the development of a central information source. The source should provide mature age workers and volunteers with clear and simple information about insurance products relevant to their participation in paid employment or volunteering. The ALRC noted that any such source should be accessible for all members of the community, including people from CALD backgrounds.

See Recommendation 6–1

Access to information about social security

In the Inquiry, the ALRC heard that mature age people find information about social security difficult to understand and navigate. In the Access All Ages Report, the ALRC highlighted particular difficulties that mature age people from CALD backgrounds may have in accessing social security information. The ALRC recommended that the Department of Human Services evaluate the methods for providing information about social security payments to mature age people.

See Recommendation 7–1

Training for employment services provider staff

Job Services Australia is the Australian Government’s employment services system. General employment services are delivered by Job Services Australia providers: a mix of for-profit and not-for-profit organisations that are contracted by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) under Employment Services Deeds. The Disability Employment Services system provides employment services for job seekers with disability.

During this Inquiry, the ALRC heard concerns that mature age job seekers are not receiving the appropriate employment assistance needed to re-engage in the workforce. Some stakeholders submitted that employment services providers were insufficiently responsive to the needs of mature age job seekers. These difficulties may be compounded for mature age job seekers with multiple barriers to work. In a submission to the Inquiry, the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) reported that there was a ‘low level of cultural competency … among Job Services Australia staff’.

The ALRC recommended that DEEWR should ensure that Australian Government employment services provider staff are provided with information and training tools about mature age job seekers, including diversity among mature age job seekers.

See Recommendation 7–2

Education and training

The ALRC also made recommendations about the need for consistent, regular and targeted education and training, and noted that in the course of developing education, training and guidance material, ways these could address the barriers faced by people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds should be considered.

See Recommendation 4–3