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Older workers dismissed as a casual expedient

Ged Taylor (left), Brian Norton and Kevin Bush, all in their sixties and replaced by outsourcing by their employer, In-Vitro Technologies.

Ged Taylor (left), Brian Norton and Kevin Bush, all in their sixties and replaced by outsourcing by their employer, In-Vitro Technologies. Photo: Ken Irwin

Kevin Bush had always planned to retire at 65, after a couple of decades at the same company.

Instead, the 61-year-old warehouse worker recently lost his job - replaced by a casual workforce - and is looking for work.

Mr Bush is wondering if the many factors counting against older workers will mean he never finds a new job. And, with Australia's retirement age to raise to 70 by 2035, it is a crisis more older Australian workers are likely to face.

The week after Easter, Mr Bush was one of five warehouse workers made redundant at In Vitro Technologies. They were replaced at the pharmaceutical distributor in Noble Park by six casual staff, employed by Skilled. Four of those who lost their jobs were over 60.

''It was a bloody shock,'' said Mr Bush, who worked at the firm for 17 years. ''They called us to a meeting two weeks before and said [they] were looking at outsourcing staff, and putting casuals in our place.'' When the casuals were hired, Mr Bush said, the company ''had the audacity to ask us to train them''.

In Vitro Technologies did not respond to repeated requests from Fairfax Media for comment. Its parent company, JJ Richards, also did not respond to queries.

Mr Bush had expected to work in the warehouse until he reached retirement age and was not sure he could get another job. ''I've been on the computer applying, but whether I get a bite or not is another matter. I've still got to get some sort of job because I'm not entitled to a pension until I'm 65.''

The staff who lost their jobs were members of the National Union of Workers. The union's state secretary, Tim Kennedy, said the job losses were ''technically legal, but morally reprehensible'', because the company was highly profitable.

The staff had now been replaced with workers on lower wages and conditions, said Mr Kennedy, who argued the case called into question ''the practicality, as well as morality, of increasing the retirement age to 70''.

If the retirement age was 70 now, ''what would these men do? They are applying for jobs every day. In their 60s, competing with 20-year-olds for jobs; it is already hard enough. I'd like to know what Joe Hockey suggests they would do if they still had eight years of work ahead of them.''

Tony Daly, from the University of South Australia's Centre for Work and Life, is researching the ageing workforce and how people in the pre-retirement age band approach the labour market.

There were ''all sorts of arguments for and against the retirement age going up'', Dr Daly said, although raising it above 65 was mostly accepted now. ''But the trouble comes when you are talking about unplanned or involuntary retirement for older workers; it always has been problematic but it's going to get more so.''

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