Dismantling begins on barriers for older workers

THE retirement age for judges and the military could be lifted under a suite of proposals designed to keep Australians working and paying taxes longer. And the ubiquitous op shop lady could in future be classified as a "worker", rather than a volunteer, so that she would be entitled to workers' compensation if she slipped over in the store.

THE retirement age for judges and the military could be lifted under a suite of proposals designed to keep Australians working and paying taxes longer.

And the ubiquitous op shop lady could in future be classified as a "worker", rather than a volunteer, so that she would be entitled to workers' compensation if she slipped over in the store.

The proposals are among a series suggested in a discussion paper released yesterday by the Australian Law Reform Commission for comment.

Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan said volunteers not being covered by workers' compensation entitlements hit small or non-profit organisations hardest. Those organisations often relied on older volunteers to exist.

"With the insurance required, it's often either too difficult or too expensive to get volunteers, and some organisations that rely on volunteers say they can't get them because they can't pay for them."

The federal government commissioned the discussion paper, saying urgent work needs to be done to remove Commonwealth barriers to older people finding work, and staying in the workforce.

It expects that by 2044-45 one in four Australians will be aged 65 or older a rapid rise from the 14 per cent reported in the 2011 census. It instructed the commission to find ways to keep ageing Australians in the workforce, and off the age pension.

The commission suggested forcing employers to give workers aged 45 and older four weeks' notice if their work was being terminated, up from one week in some cases.

And it said the government should consider reviewing the mandatory retirement age for the judiciary and military. At present the compulsory retirement age for Australian Defence Force personnel is 60 years and 65 years for reservists.

Judges are forced to retire at 70. Ms Ryan who served as a part-time commissioner on the panel said changing this could be difficult, as the retirement age was written into the constitution.

She said discrimination remained built into superannuation law, which does not allow workers aged 75 and older to voluntarily top up their super, nor their employers to gain tax benefits from contributing more than the mandatory amount.

"It's government policy to encourage them to do so [work], so we would say removing that disadvantage would be a priority."

Council on the Ageing national policy manager Jo Root said the proposals were "in the right direction", particularly those designed to remove impediments to older people planning their financial security.

"It's a source of great concern for many people and I think the recommendations on superannuation would help much of this."

The commission is seeking submissions on the discussion paper by November 23, and will report to the government by March 31, 2013.

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