Let pensioners work

Professor John McCallum

TYPE in the words “regional”, “labour” and “shortage” in Google and you’ll be inundated with stories of worker shortages from Katherine in the west to Geelong in the east. From the abattoirs and dairy farms to local cafés, where there is such a shortage of decent baristas – some areas have even started offering $90,000 a year for someone just to make a decent cup of coffee.

Everywhere you look in the country areas, “help is wanted” and yet, according to the National Farmers’ Federation, the bush produces 40 per cent of Australia’s economic output and farmers put 90 per cent of our food on the table.

Our Chief Advocate Ian Henschke observed that getting the message through about the labour shortage gripping Australia is a bit like an annoying father with the usual routine of whether anyone in his family has seen his cars keys when they are plain staring him in the face on the coffee table.

In other words, the answer to our woes is right in front of us, pensioners.

Not only are there plenty of seniors able to work, they are willing. Did you know as many as one in five aged pensioners would consider it?

How do we know this? National Seniors asked them.

Our recent poll of almost 4000 older Australians revealed 20 per cent of those on the aged pension say they would consider a return to work and 16 per cent have already done so.

There’s just one problem, the government’s work test on the age pension limits the average pensioner to just one day’s work a week before they start losing their pension.

People on the pension are telling us they’d love to work, but fear losing their pension, and there’s all the paperwork that comes with working while on the pension.

Our research over the past few years is littered with examples of older Australians who are working but want to do more but can’t because there is no incentive.

The aged pension was first designed and developed in Australia over a hundred years ago and its acknowledged that parts of it were modelled on the New Zealand scheme which is interesting, because today, all New Zealanders of the pension age are free to work as much as they want, without losing their pension.

They just pay their share of income tax.

If Australia is the land of the ‘fair go’, then why can’t we give older Australians a go, and let pensioners work.

Professor John McCallum

CEO and Director of Research at National Seniors Australia