A man sitting at a cafe table

Barry couldn’t find anyone working at his restaurant, so he turned to an overlooked group

Along the waterfront at Queenscliff on Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula is a restaurant where customers are more likely to be served by someone over 60 than someone in their 20s.

All because one day owner Barry Idles had an innovative idea.

Like thousands of other restaurant owners in Australia, Mr Idles has struggled to fill his shifts.

Out of desperation, he sent out hundreds of postcards specifically asking retirees to work for him.

You didn’t need a resume or hospitality experience. They only had to come in for an interview to see if they would enjoy the work.

Now he has 12 people on the books who are over 50 years old.

“We have two 74-year-olds, one 70-year-old and then another [people aged] 57, 60, 64, 66 and 67,” Mr Idles said.

“There is a labor shortage and a labor crisis, [but] I have no. I currently have five employees too many. And I might actually open another venue to keep them all employed.”

One of the newcomers is Kenton Savage, a 67-year-old who always thought he would settle down comfortably with his wife after selling his distribution business.

But then the pandemic hit and the company went bankrupt.

Kenton Savage’s original plans for retirement were derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic.(ABC News: Rachel Clayton)

With no pension and the continued high cost of living, Mr. Savage and his wife had no choice but to get a job.

“The pension just wasn’t enough. So I looked around for a job and Barry hired,” he said.

The benefits were more than strengthening his back pocket.

“I think it just keeps me fit and healthy and happy. It’s been really good for me to be able to get out and get around,” he said.

Age discrimination “alive and well” in the workplace

Council for Older Australians (COTA) chief executive Ian Yates said the experience of discrimination has often deterred older workers from applying for a job.

Mr Yates said Mr Iddles’ technique of specifically encouraging older workers to apply was what was needed to show older Australians they were wanted and needed.

“Many older people have experienced many setbacks and have not been taken seriously as potential employees,” he said.

“The job market is so tight that employers are being forced to look at channels and groups they wouldn’t normally watch, including older Australians.”

Alysia Blackham, a researcher at Melbourne Law School, agreed that more employers need to target their job ads to older workers.

“We see that people who frequently experience ageism and other forms of discrimination are less inclined to speak up,” she said.

“Companies that are creative and open in their recruiting will reap significant benefits from a more diverse workforce.”

A woman in a dark jacket smiles
Alysia Blackham says more companies could benefit from expanding their hiring pools.(delivered)

The latest COTA survey of 830 people over the age of 45 found that age-related attitudes and behavior are “ingrained in many Australian workplaces”.

Eighty-eight per cent of respondents said ageism was ‘alive and well in Australian workplaces’ and a significant number of respondents said they had both personally experienced and witnessed ageism in the workplace.

One respondent said that he feels “powerless” to change the way others at work view his age, and that “well-intentioned jokes” about his age leave them feeling “depressed” and “worthless…when.” if I had exceeded my greeting”.

Pension limits work for some

Mr Yates said while employers were increasingly looking for older workers, restrictions on income before it impacted pensions were holding older workers back.

Earlier this year, the federal government raised that limit, allowing old-age pensioners to earn an additional $4,000 a year before their state payments are cut.

Mr. Savage works about four shifts a week and is no longer entitled to his pension.

Under current limits, workers can only work about one shift per week at minimum wage.

“And that’s not enough. I mean that [policy] I thought it was all window dressing. The pension is simply wiped out by the extra income,” Mr Yates said.

“I think the government is sticking its toe in the water to see what kind of reaction that evokes.”

Respondents to the COTA survey often said that pensions are not enough to live on.

One person said they could live on their partial pension and super for longer if they could work a couple of shifts every two weeks.

“If that were to happen, I doubt I would ever need to apply for a full retirement pension,” they said.

Not just for the paycheck

While there are obvious financial benefits of working more into old age, Mr Yates said the social aspects should not be overlooked.

“The cost of living certainly weighs on older Australians… but for a lot of people there are other motivations too: staying connected, having activities you want to participate in, making a contribution,” he said.

Susan Burston, 73, also applied for a job at Mr Iddles’ restaurant after receiving a postcard in her mailbox and thought the job would boost her confidence.

“COVID has made many people depressed. And I know among the older ones we all say that we actually find it quite difficult to get out,” she said.

“[Working] makes me feel better And I love getting involved, I love contributing.”

Ms Burston said employers are often surprised at how loyal older workers are.

“How well we work and what good ethics we have. We are reliable. We’re not trying to get out of work,” she said.

A waitress in a restaurant
Susan Burston says returning to the workforce has helped her recover from COVID lockdowns.(ABC News: Rachel Clayton)

Mr Idles said he had received more applications than he could handle.

“I have four more bit-eating to join our team,” he said.

He encouraged other employers to see through age stereotypes and give mature workers a chance.

“Three of them have been unemployed for a long, long time. [They came] back a day or two a week and they switch very quickly,” he said.

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