Getting work harder for older seekers

Job seekers over 60 find it tough

CECILE MEIER
Last updated 05:00 24/02/2014
Sharren Wilson and Shivonne Ross
John Kirk-Anderson/Fairfax NZ

LOSING CONFIDENCE: Sharren Wilson, left, and Shivonne Ross are having trouble finding work because of their age.

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Job seekers over 60 say finding a job at their age is extremely difficult. They are struggling to survive on benefits. In the second of a five-part series on discrimination and employment, Ceclie Meier speaks with disillusioned 60+ jobseekers.

Sharren Wilson and Shivonne Ross do not know each other but they share similar struggles to find employment at age 60.

They both have decades of experience in clerical and administration roles, a happy personality, and present well.

But after two years of applying and getting rejected to countless jobs they are starting to lose confidence.

Wilson says she's lost track of the number of jobs she's applied to. She had 20 interviews in two years, but none resulted in a job offer.

She says employers seem interested in her application but change their minds once they meet her and realise how old she is, even though they "never mention age outright".

Wilson says her savings have gone after two years on benefits.

Shivonne Ross has applied for over 70 jobs in the past two years, which resulted in only one interview. She says her resume does not state her age, but employers could easily "flag" it.

"Perhaps as I do not have my schooling details, this throws up a ‘red alert, red alert, oldie applying'."

She is trying to remain positive, but is running out of money.

"You can't live on the dole. It's just enough to pay rent. There's nothing for petrol, nothing for food."

She is now taking a business course with Work and Income and hopes to find a part-time job while developing self-employment possibilities.

Wilson and Ross are not isolated cases.

"A lot of jobseekers I've talked to within my age group are losing confidence. They're feeling down," says Wilson.

The Household Labour Force Survey for the December 2013 quarter shows the unemployment rate for the 55+ age group has dropped to 1.6 per cent, compared to 2.8 per cent a year ago. About 1200 people over 55 were unemployed in December 2013.

The 55+ age group is not big, and the rate of employment is improving. But the ones who are unemployed seem to struggle more than the average jobseeker.

Several people in this age category told The Press they were losing confidence.

A 62 year-old man, who asked not to be named, says he was made redundant in 2011 and has not found fulltime employment since despite his extensive experience as an executive. He says he's lost count of the number of jobs he's applied for.

He is seeing a counsellor to be able to express his anger and frustration at the situation.

"I can now see why men of my age decide just to end it all," he says.

A 60 year-old woman, who asked not to be named, says she is struggling to find part-time employment despite good computer skills, years of experience, and her involvement in voluntary work.

"Every day is a struggle to find money to just put ten dollars gas in the car, and every day I go to the job sites and try and try."

Yet, Work and Income does not seem to provide special measures to help older people find a job.

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A spokesperson said the organisation's commitment to help get people into work was the same for jobseekers of all ages.

Taylor Shaw partner and employment law specialist Kathryn Dalziel says it is illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of age, with very few exceptions. However, discrimination is hard to prove.

"It is more than clear that most bars have an age policy because there is no-one over 35 behind the bar."

Pre-interview questions and forms are a good way to flag discrimination, she says.

An employer can not ask a candidate about his age, his date of birth, his retirement plans, or potential health problems - unless they are likely to affect the job directly.

Dalziel says jobseekers should contact the Human Rights Commissioner immediately if they are asked such a question in person, or in a questionnaire.

"The Commissioner will get on the phone and they might ask the employer to interview a candidate or to take them on a trial period."

AGE DISCRIMINATION

The Human Rights Comission has the power to resolve disputes relating to unlawful discrimination under the Human Rights Act. If you believe you have been discriminated against you can ask the Comission for assistance. Call 0800 469 877 or complete an online form at hrc.co.nz.

- The Press

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