Age Barriers to Work —People with Disability

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 with disability. Further detail about these recommendations can be found in the Final Report, Access All Ages—Older Workers and Commonwealth Laws, ALRC Report 120 (2013) which is available for free download at

Mature age people with disability

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.

Mature age people with disability include those with disability acquired at an early age, as well as those who acquire disability with age. Rates of disability increase with age. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare stated in 2011 that:

After around 50 years of age the prevalence of disability rose considerably, from 20% in the 50–54 years age group to more than 80% among people aged 85 years or over. Rates of severe or profound core activity limitations were even more strongly associated with ageing. (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australia’s Welfare 2011 (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 persons, including people with disability.

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 with disability.

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. The extension of the right would help mature age workers to accommodate their caring responsibilities and address a key barrier to ongoing workforce participation for many people, including people with disability and their carers.

The ALRC also recommended that the Fair Work Ombudsman amend material relevant to negotiating and implementing such arrangements to include information for mature age workers. It noted the importance of ensuring such material is accessible for all members of the community—including people with disability and their carers.

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 with disability.

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. 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. Indigenous employment services are available through the Job Services Australia network, in conjunction with the Indigenous Employment Program and, in remote areas with poor labour markets, Community Development Employment Projects.

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 Australian Federation of Disability Organisations reported that its members ‘often hear complaints that DES providers do not have sufficient understanding of the issues related to disability’.

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

Disability Support Pension

The ALRC found that uncertainty about the circumstances of review of qualification for Disability Support Pension (DSP) may be a disincentive to increased workforce participation for recipients. The ALRC recommended that the Guide to Social Security Law be amended to ensure that the parameters for review are consistent with recent amendments to the Social Security Act 1991 (Cth) that allow a DSP recipient to work at least 15 hours per week but fewer than 30 hours per week and remain qualified for DSP.

See Recommendation 7–3

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 with disability should be considered.

See Recommendation 4–3