2.1 The Australian employment law landscape has undergone significant shifts in recent years, with changes to the nature of work relationships and arrangements as well as the legislative and regulatory framework. In light of demographic changes in Australia and government objectives aimed at prolonging workforce participation, the ability of the employment law framework to respond to the needs of mature age workers and their employers is crucial. Increased labour force participation by mature age workers is key to meeting the policy challenges presented by an ageing population.[1] As stated by the Advisory Panel on the Economic Potential of Senior Australians, the ‘challenge is to re-shape workplaces’ and the employment law framework to facilitate the ongoing involvement of mature age persons in the workforce and other productive work.[2]

2.2 This chapter examines barriers in an employment context to mature age persons participating in the workforce or other productive work. It identifies a number of barriers at various stages of employment and ways in which these may be addressed, including in relation to: entering and re-entering the workforce; maintaining employment; protections surrounding termination of employment; regulation and monitoring; and education and awareness.

2.3 Reform in this area must address complex and interrelated barriers to workforce participation. This requires a combination of legislative and regulatory reform, combined with measures to increase education and awareness and address perceptions and stereotypes surrounding mature age workers. The ALRC makes a number of proposals aimed at: addressing the practices of recruitment agencies; extending the right to request flexible working arrangements; reviewing modern awards; extending periods for notice of termination of employment; reviewing compulsory retirement; and supporting education and awareness raising and the development of guidance material in a range of areas.

[1] See, eg, Australian Human Rights Commission, Working Past Our 60s: Reforming Law and Policies for the Older Worker (June 2012); Deloitte Access Economics, Increasing Participation Among Older Workers: The Grey Army Advances (2012), prepared for the Australian Human Rights Commission; Australian Government, Intergenerational Report 2010, Australia to 2050: Future Challenges (2010).

[2] Advisory Panel on the Economic Potential of Senior Australians, Realising the Economic Potential of Senior Australians—Turning Grey into Gold (2011), 1.