Friday, February 27, 2004

Retirement reforms and the grey ceiling

Treasurer Peter Costello’s long-overdue retirement and superannuation reforms are so underwhelming as to be a joke.

There is no change to the current tapering-off schedule, from retirement at age 55, to retirement at age 60 – to come into force between 2019 and 2024, when all but the very last boomers will have taken their money and ran with it. And I mean taken their money (although the idea of sole ownership implicit in “their” could be debated) – contrary to Ken Parish’s pessimism, there will be no fresh restrictions on lump sums, other than for those who wish to work (presumably part-time) past 55 and access some of their super.

In the last two days, Treasurer Costello’s corollary plan to encourage people to remain in the workforce for longer has been viewed with a much wider scepticism. In the process, an interesting side debate about the “grey ceiling” has emerged. Personally, I don’t think ageism (as in favouring younger workers over more meritorious older ones) is widespread – if anything, blatant ageism operates in the reverse direction. While these jobless former executive over-45s are real enough, the ratio decidendi for their predicament has nothing to do with age, and everything to do with the dumbing-down of Australia’s economy over the last two decades. As a highly-educated GenXer, I’m in exactly the same boat here:

"It's discrimination, we're 'too skilled' and 'too experienced' and that's a worry" (same URL)

The fact that Treasurer Costello thinks that there is an equilibrium, if not a surplus of jobs out there for skilled white-collar workers leads to some inadvertent comedy, resulting from over-stretched premises:

This idea that you are going to throw people on the scrap heap at 40 or 50 -- and there was a lot of that going on in the '70s and '80s -- that is wrong.

With the first half of the 70s being an era of full employment, it is Treasurer Costello who is wrong. In any case, when mass-retrenchments did take place later in this period, they were almost always of zero or low-skilled workers in rustbelt industries.

"Mature-age workers are very reliable; they tend not to have as many sick days," the Treasurer said. "You know, they don't go out to nightclubs and they generally get to work on time. They are people that are reliable and dependable. Now, they may not all want to work 40 or 50 hours, but they can do a bit." (same URL)

Being about to hit the Treasurer’s definition of "mature-age” (= 40) myself, I’m not sure how to take these comments. A gay man is never to old to go to nightclubs (believe me). So it seems that, as long as you turn up to work on time, you can feel, look and most of all, work like a piece of shit – in the Treasurer’s words, “do a bit” – and get away with it! But be careful here, kiddies – this rule only applies to those over 40. Which is just what I’ve long suspected, anyway.

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