65 year old Ante 'Jambo' Govic will be forced to keep working until 70 under government plans to extend the retirement age.

65 year old Ante 'Jambo' Govic will be forced to keep working until 70 under government plans to extend the retirement age. Photo: Paul Jeffers

''You can feel it in your bones,'' says Ante Govic, of the toll from a life of blue collar work.

Mr Govic, a construction worker, cannot believe the government wants people to retire at 70 from 2035. He fears for his sons, one of whom is also in construction, and says finishing work at 70 leaves too little time for retirement. ''Having 40 to 45 years in the workforce, that's plenty,'' he says.

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For the past five years Mr Govic, 65, has worked as a ''peggy'' on big construction sites, a job involving cleaning and general tasks. It is lighter work than what he did for the decade-and-a-half before that when he worked as a plasterer, often doing heavy lifting. ''It was very hard work.''

While the nature of work is changing – with less of the workforce doing physical work – research shows many people struggle to work until they are 60, let alone 70.  The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey shows that the average retirement age from 2003 to 2011 for men was 62.6 years old and for women it was just under 60. While that is rising, it is still well below the current retirement age of 65.

And the HILDA data shows, for men, nearly half of all retirements are involuntary with most due to poor health. Women are more likely to retire on their own terms but still 43 per cent retire due to reasons such as ill health, losing their job or having to care for others.

Report author Associate Professor Roger Wilkins said lifting the age people can access the pension had the effect of ''altering people's mental picture of when you should retire'', which should encourage people to work longer, but not necessarily to 70.

That could mean people with financial means to retire early might decide to retire at 65 rather than 60. They could then fund themselves for a number of years. Professor Wilkins said retirement ages had been rising – by about two years from the previous period of 1995 to 2003 – even without changes to the age you can access the pension. ''It's certainly not the only factor that determines people's decision making when it comes to retirement.''

Yet many people still work in physically demanding jobs. Mr Govic reckons the people making the decisions are out of touch. ''I've never heard of anywhere in the world, not even the Third World, where they want you to work to 70,'' he says. ''It goes back to where they want you to be a slave.''