Half of people aged 45 and older have abnormal lung function, says large study

Almost 50% of people aged 45 years and above have abnormal lung function, results of the Longitudinal Ageing Study in India (LASI) released on Wednesday say.

LASI, Wave 1, carried out in 2017-18, covered a baseline sample of 72,250 individuals of age 45 or older and their spouses from all states and Union Territories other than Sikkim.

Of these, 55,186 people underwent spirometry tests to check the health of their lungs. Only 51% reported normal lung function values, while 40% showed evidence of a restrictive lung disease pattern, indicating small lungs. This was slightly more prevalent in urban areas than in rural areas.

Nine per cent reported the presence of obstructive airways diseases such as asthma/COPD; this was somewhat more prevalent in rural areas than in urban areas.

The report was released by Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan on a virtual platform. The study was funded by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and was carried out by the International Institute of Population Sciences (IIPS) in collaboration with Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health, University of Southern California, National AIDS Research Institute, and Chest Research Foundation, Pune, among others.

The goal of the study is to provide reliable and continuous scientific data on the health, and social, mental and economic well-being of India’s older adult (aged 45 and above) population. The aim is to continue for the next 25 years, with respondents surveyed every two years, principal investigator Dr T V Sekher told The Indian Express.

LASI in India is the world’s largest longitudinal ageing study in terms of sample size and reach, Dr Sekher said. Similar studies have been carried out in 41 countries; in Asia, China, Korea, Japan, and Indonesia have taken up the exercise.

The high burden of abnormal lung function (49%) reported in the study is worrying, said Dr Sundeep Salvi, former director of Chest Research Foundation, and head of Pulmocare Research and Education (PURE) Foundation.

“This needs to be taken seriously to find the causes and associated risk factors,” he said. Dr Salvi and his team trained field workers across India to perform spirometry, carried out quality assurance of all the reports, and helped in data analysis and report-writing.

The burden of obstructive airways disease is more prevalent in the northern states. This seems to correlate with high levels of ambient air pollution in these states, Dr Salvi said, adding, however, that more analysis of this aspect was needed.

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Holiday vigilance to protect older Australians in aged care – 16 News

The health and safety of older Australians should be a priority this holiday season with families urged to keep in contact with those most in need – but to take appropriate precautions.

While restrictions have eased across Australia, providers and families living across the Northern Beaches and Penrith areas of Sydney must abide by the current visitation guidelines.

Until further notice all staff and visitors at residential facilities must wear a surgical mask.

Additionally, until at least Wednesday 30 December, all residential aged care facilities across the Northern Beaches LGA must exclude visitors, except those performing essential caring functions.

Up to two people are permitted to visit loved ones in residential aged care facilities in Greater Sydney including the local government areas of Central Coast and Wollongong.

The rule also applies for Greater Sydney residents visiting regional aged care facilities.

There are no restrictions on people from regional NSW visiting residents in regional facilities.

Updated advice for Residential Aged Care facilities and Home Care Service providers can be found here.

Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, Richard Colbeck, said aged care providers and families were required to follow the relevant visitation guidelines to ensure loved ones could maintain contact.

“We know where there is community transmission there is a serious risk of the virus spreading to aged care settings,” Minister Colbeck said.

“It is a difficult time for residents, families, providers and staff at facilities across this region but it’s vital we prioritise and protect our most vulnerable.

“Of course, we want families to maintain contact with their relatives in aged care, and a phone call or video call will mean a lot to those who can’t have visitors.

“Staff and management will continue to provide compassion and understanding, while also being a strong line of defence for those in their care from the coronavirus.”

Australian Government support for aged care providers in the Northern Beaches hotspot is already being provided, including asymptomatic testing, supplies of personal protective equipment as required, and workforce surge and support where needed.

A new three-tier escalation plan, backed by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), outlines how providers can respond to the COVID-19 threat level in the local community and ramp the response up or down as needed.

The AHPPC guidelines outline visitation recommendations providers can put in place if they are in a defined hotspot with localised outbreaks of cases (Tier 2) and when there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in the community (Tier 3).

“Residents must be protected in the least restrictive manner and their health needs must be balanced with their personal wellbeing,” Minister Colbeck said.

Additionally, Minister Colbeck said the Industry Code for Visiting Residential Aged Care Homes during COVID-19, developed in conjunction with consumer peak bodies sets out a nationally consistent, principles-based approach to maintaining residents’ visitation and communication – the Government welcomes the latest version of the code.

In conjunction with the new visitation guidelines, it offers clarity for residents and families.

“It is an important time of the year for families to re-connect, particularly as we return to COVID-normal environments with the current exception of the Sydney hotspots,” Minister Colbeck said.

“The social distancing measures we have all adopted will protect our families.

“Don’t visit if you are unwell, practise good hand and cough hygiene, and follow the advice available from staff at the aged care facility.”

All aged care providers are urged to ensure their outbreak management plan is up to date and ready to be activated. They must also be alert to any staff or care recipients experiencing respiratory and flu like symptoms.

The Visitation Guidelines for Residential Aged Care can be found here.

The COVID-19 escalation tiers and aged care provider responses can be found here.

The Older Persons COVID Support Line can offer information and support to seniors who need assistance or are feeling worried and isolated. The line can be reached on free call 1800 171 866.

Mental health support is available to all Australians by calling Lifeline (13 11 14) or BeyondBlue (1800 512 348) and further resources are available on the Department of Health’s Head to Health website.

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The Nonna Project: Plea for social housing for older women

BALLINA Shire Council will be formally asked this week to join a social housing pilot project for single women over 55.

Former Ballina Shire councillor Marilyn Perkins will present the Nonna Project to council’s Commercial Services Committee this week.

Mrs Perkins said the idea was for council to cede one block of land from the planned stage three of the Wollongbar Urban Expansion Area.

The development includes thirty residential lots and one large lot, identified for childcare


The idea, she said, was for one of those lots to include four 30 sqm cottages plus fencing and common areas, such as parking.

Each cottage will feature one bedroom, a bathroom, a kitchen/dining area and a living area, plus a small veranda.

“Rent would be at a level that women would be able to pay, and offered as long term rental agreements to them to provide security, stability and privacy,” she explained.


Wollongbar resident and former Ballina Shire councillor, Marilyn Perkins.


The former Ballina Woman of the Year said if the land is made available by council, a not-for-profit will be established to manage the property and offer long-term, viable rental to women.

“Women over 55 are the fastest-growing group of homeless people in Australia,” she said.

“I know a lady from Wollongbar who, at 82, became at risk of homelessness because her rent increased,” she said.

“An employee at the Ballina Hospital said to me ‘you would be amazed the number of older women, living on their own, who have rented for years in Ballina or surrounds (people) that I work with, who are petrified of retiring because they know they can’t afford rent if they stop working.

“They have to move out of the area, leave their families and support networks behind.”

A private donation of $200,000 will get the project rolling, and conversations with further not-for-profit community foundations are advanced to offer further financial assistance, plus pro bono management of the project, design and legal support.

“There will be a legally-binding agreement that reassures council that there will never be anything in this land but social housing for single, older women,” she said.

“I hope council sees the value in this, as a pilot project that could be the first in the region, showing that it is possible for councils to support the most vulnerable in our communities and that could be a starting point for many more across NSW.”

Mrs Perkins will meet the Commercial Services Committee tomorrow Tuesday.

Ballina Shire Council was contacted for comment.

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Can older staff be made redundant to make room for staff eligible for JobMaker?

With the newly
announced JobMaker scheme incentivising hiring young people under 35, many are
concerned that older workers may be disadvantaged. Some critics point to a
scenario where older staff are made redundant, only to be replaced by younger
workers eligible for JobMaker. But is this actually legal?

What is JobMaker?

In an effort to
boost employment, the JobMaker Hiring Credit provides monetary incentives to
businesses to hire people currently on JobSeeker aged between 16 and 35 years
old. These new employees must be offered at least twenty (20) hours of work.

Businesses will receive
$200 a week when hiring an eligible worker aged 29 or under and $100 a week
when hiring an eligible worker between 30 and 35 years old. New jobs
created until 6 October 2021 will attract the JobMaker Hiring Credit for up to
12 months from the date the new position is created.

Will employers
be incentivised to terminate staff who aren’t eligible for Jobmaker?

All of this
begs the question, will employers be legally entitled to
make a position redundant only to turn around and hire a younger person for the
same or similar position? Certainly, there is a strong incentive to do so with
employers potentially standing to gain thousands of dollars in government

If an employer opts
to go down this path, what are the risks? And is it actually legal?

What are
the legal considerations employers must make when making staff redundant?

If an employer makes a position redundant correctly and in accordance with the present law, they will not be in jeopardy of having committed an actionable offence. Therefore, it is extremely important that the classification of a position as redundant, be done properly and in accordance with all of the legal requirements.

A position can be found redundant if the following circumstances exist:

  • The employer no longer needs a particular job to be done by anyone.
  • The employer becomes insolvent or bankrupt.

In the event that the employer makes a position redundant, and then rehires a younger person via the JobMaker program to onboard and do the same job that was just made redundant, it is possible that this could be an actionable offence. The claim holder would be the person who was told their job was redundant. The claim would be that the employer turned around and hired someone younger to do the same job that the employer insisted was redundant.

However, in the event that an employer makes a job redundant and then hires a younger person (via JobMaker) to do a job that may be slightly similar to the redundant position, but includes several different or additional responsibilities, the issue of the new position being illegal becomes less viable. To arrive at this conclusion, the Court would most likely complete an analysis of the two positions. If the Court found that the new job was essentially a different job, then the laws regarding redundancy probably would not preclude the new job, or the new employee, from being hired via JobMaker.

It is highly recommended that if you are an employer and you do need to make positions redundant for economic reasons, that upon rehiring you ensure that you are not simply adding a younger person to do the same job you just categorised as redundant. Instead, be sure that the new position does have significant differences from the position which you claim you no longer need to be done by anyone.

Rolf Howard, Managing Partner, Owen Hodge Lawyers

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The outlook for older women in Australia is dire – but no one seems to care | Gender

Every time I speak up publicly about the very real plight facing older women in Australia – as I did on last week’s Q&A – I get inundated with messages on social media. But virtually all of those messages are from other older women. They confide in me their terror of homelessness and the inescapability of their poverty. They tell me of the indignities and humiliations they suffer at the hands of a punitive and indifferent welfare system, and they whisper dark stories of domestic violence, neglected health and isolation. These women are my peers (I am 63). They are the girls I went to school with, my sisters, neighbours, cousins and friends. We all started out with the same hopes and optimism about our future but, for far too many women of my generation, those hopes have turned to ashes.

Covid-19 has made everything worse in all sorts of ways, but it holds particular perils for those of us who are older. There are the losses that cannot be helped – the increase in isolation, the loss of contact with grandchildren and other relatives, and the need to take greater precautions when we venture out – but that is not the worst of it. Covid-19 has both unveiled and accelerated the discrimination and systemic burdens that make women more vulnerable to poverty throughout their lives. A vulnerability that snowballs as we age.

Prior to Covid, women over 55 were already the fastest growing group among the homeless. Research released in August estimated that 400,000 women over the age of 45 currently face this fate. Women who are in the private rental market, who are not employed full time and are a sole parent have a 64% risk of losing the roof over their head. If they have been homeless before, this risk increases to a staggering 83%! These figures are grim, but has anyone noticed? Is there an outcry? Does anyone – apart from the women themselves – actually care?

Education used to be one of feminism’s good news stories. Australian women are among the best educated in the world. However, thanks to Covid, even this may be changing. There has been a drastic fall in university enrolments by women and girls – 86,000 fewer in 2020. That’s not just hopes, dreams and talent going up in smoke, that’s a lifetime of increased earning capacity lost. Male enrolments have fallen too, but at a far lower rate. No doubt female aspirations have not been helped by the federal government’s bizarre decision to price degrees popular with women students beyond reach. And, despite the rhetoric, many women who dreamt of studying the humanities haven’t gone into Stem. It seems many have given up the idea of attending university at all.

The recent budget, touted as all about jobs, did little or nothing to help. It did nothing to support women’s employment, despite women workers losing more hours of paid work than men. In September, the ABS estimated that 61% of all jobs lost since February were lost by women, and only a third of the jobs that have returned have gone to women. Lockdowns and working from home has seen many women experience a huge increase in their hours of unpaid work which, as it always does, impinges on their ability to return to full-time employment. When criticised for ignoring the plight of women in the recent budget, the government loftily claimed it was “gender-blind”, as if not noticing how much women were struggling was somehow a virtue.

Not “seeing” women is one thing, but deliberate policy that hobbles the ability of women to enter and stay in the paid work force is quite another. The decision to make early childhood educators – overwhelmingly female and low paid – the first (and so far, only) group to lose jobkeeper support, seems designed to hurt working women. Not just those employed by childcare centres, but every person (mostly women) who relies on childcare to keep their job. The government also quickly reinstated the pre-Covid cost of childcare, already the fourth most expensive in the world, re-establishing yet another barrier stopping women returning to the workforce after they have had children, particularly full time.

The decision to allow Australians early access to their super to help tide them over has also been particularly disastrous for women. They currently retire with an average of half the super of men and one third of women retire with no super at all. Industry experts are already sounding the alarm that this will condemn further generations of women to a poverty-stricken old age.

To spell it out for those at the back, this matters because if you are forced into casual, part-time, low-paid work – and women make up almost 70% of part-time workers in Australia – if you come in and out of the workforce due to caring and domestic duties, if you are the last hired and first fired after you turn 50, you accumulate less super. The sexism, discrimination and obstacles compound until, according to this year’s Measure for Measure Report, 60% of older single women (never married, divorced, widowed) rely on the full age pension and half of them live in permanent income poverty. In other words, your reward for a lifetime of putting other people’s needs ahead of your own is very likely an old age of poverty and sleeping rough.

I don’t want to believe our government is using the pandemic to shove women, especially mothers, back into the kitchen and back into financial dependence of their husbands, I really don’t. But when you put it all together, it’s hard not to reach that conclusion. Whether this is part of an ideological belief that women should be at home, looking after the kids, or just an inability to see or care about the fate of 51% of the population, the long-term consequences for the current generation of women are dire. Whether they want to think about it or not, younger women are now facing at least as high a risk of a desperately poor old age as their mothers and grandmothers did. Not thanks to Covid, but thanks to government policy.

Yet, according to polls, this is a very popular government, so I return to my opening question: why does no one seem to care? Surely we should be marching in the streets? Surely there should be daily questions in the House about why we are blithely casting our mothers, aunts and grandmothers (and soon, our sisters, daughters and wives) into penury as they age?

Why is it the only people who seem to notice are older women themselves?

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Single parents are poorer but older Australians have seen wealth grow | Business

Household wealth among older Australian couples boomed above $1m before the pandemic, but median incomes remained below GFC levels and poverty among single-parent families continued its steady rise, a study has found.

The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey, or Hilda, tracks 17,500 people about various aspects of their lives, from employment and income, to wellbeing and lifestyle.

The latest report, released on Friday, tracked participants from 2001 to 2018, and provided a picture of the country before the pandemic hit, said Prof Roger Wilkins, the Melbourne Institute deputy director and report co-author.

“It tells us a bit about where we were heading before we went into this pandemic, and who was most vulnerable,” Wilkins said. “And, what will be the challenges once we come out the other side.”

It found young people and women were overrepresented in industries such as hospitality, arts and recreation that would have left them most exposed to the Covid-19 recession.

But Wilkins said the report’s findings around single-parent families were also worrying.

Between 2016 and 2018, poverty among single-parent families increased from 15% to 25%, the report said, while a fifth said they’d gone without three or more essential items.

Poverty rates

Photograph: Hilda

Older couples and older single males also saw a small uptick in poverty, and the overall rate rose from 9.4% to 10.8%.

“To my eye, the results for single parents are a cause for concern,” Wilkins said.

Overall, 11.3% of people did not have $500 in the bank for an emergency, 8% could not afford home contents insurance and 5.3% couldn’t afford dental treatment they needed.

Disadvantage was also entrenched, with 43% of those who in 2014 said they could not afford two or more items of a list of 25 essentials saying the same in 2018.

Covid-impacted groups, industries

The survey also allowed researchers to gain a sense of which groups were most affected by the Covid-induced recession.

Wilkins noted the survey showed young people had already been facing an “increasingly less receptive labour market up until 2018”, with “declining full-time employment rates, even for graduates, and declining wages”.

Using the Hilda data to 2018, young people were most likely to be working in jobs exposed to the effects of pandemic, representing 34.9% of all workers in these industries.

Women were also overrepresented, making up 49.5% of people employed in the worst-affected industries, but only 47.4% of people employed in other industries.

Wilkins said the government’s jobmaker hiring credit would offer “marginal” help to young people, but he said they were already “fighting a more hostile economic environment”.

The survey put the women’s participation rate at 72.5% in 2018, the highest rate in its history.

But there was also risk the recession would unwind improvements to the gender pay and employment gap, which Wilkins said had been closing since 2012.

Wealth/home ownership

Declining home ownership rates finally came to a halt between 2014 and 2018, with a slight uptick in the proportion of adults who were home owners from 51.6% to 51.9%.

Overall wealth also increased between 2014 and 2018, but the growth was driven by older couples who have seen a dramatic increase in their household wealth.

The measure improved for all groups, except single parents who had gone backwards since 2005.

Older couples reached $1m in median household wealth in 2018, up from $791,736 in 2014, and $454,557 in 2002.

By location, household wealth was also highest in Melbourne, followed by Sydney and Perth.


Wages and underpayment

Hilda put the median annual household disposable income at $81,310 in 2018, lower than the 2009 figure of $82,236, and a slight improvement from 2017 ($80,100).

Once again, single-parent families saw a large drop in their median incomes, from approximately $38,000 to approximately $34,000 between 2016 and 2018.

The Hilda report included an estimate of the proportion of workers who were earning less than the national minimum wage. Wilkins said the researchers decided to probe the issue amid increasing public attention on cases of wage underpayment.

Hilda found 9.9% of all adult employees appeared to be receiving less than the minimum wage, a proportion that had remained stable since 2007.

Notably, 40.5% of employees in the agriculture, forestry and fishing industry appeared to be receiving less than the minimum, while the same was true for 35.1% of people working in accommodation and food services.

Wilkins said the “piece rate” agreements would have been a factor in the agriculture findings, but the hospitality figure was “consistent with the cases that have come to light” in the industry.

Caveats to the figures included that some workers may have misreported their income or hours and that the minimum wage might not apply in certain cases.

But he added that while very few people should be receiving less than the minimum, most should legally receive more because award minimums tended to be higher.


The survey noted life satisfaction among Australians had been relatively stable, though people were less satisfied with their lives in 2018 than they were in 2001.

Wilkins said even this likely reflected “social desirability bias” in the early years of the survey. He noted this disappeared over time in a longitudinal study when participants became more comfortable taking part.

The report found people over the age of 65 were most satisfied, followed by people 15-24 years old.


For the first time, the survey collected data about pet ownership. It found 62% of Australians own at least one pet.

Dogs were more common (44%) than cats (23%), followed by fish (18%), birds (16%) and horses (3.6%).

Victorians were more likely to own a cat and no dog, while the opposite was true of people living in New South Wales and Queensland.

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Oxford University COVID-19 vaccine ‘encouraging’ for older age groups

Older individuals are at disproportionate risk of severe COVID-19 and so any vaccine adopted for use must be effective in older adults

London: The coronavirus vaccine developed by teams at the University of Oxford has been shown to trigger a robust immune response in healthy adults aged 56-69 and those over 70 years of age.

The findings published in ‘Lancet’ on Thursday based on 560 healthy adult volunteers shows that the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine is “safe and well tolerated” with a lower reactogenicity profile in older adults than in younger adults, meaning the older age groups could build immunity to the disease.


“These findings are encouraging because older individuals are at disproportionate risk of severe COVID-19 and so any vaccine adopted for use against SARS-CoV-2 [COVID-19] must be effective in older adults,” the researchers note.

The team is also testing whether the vaccine stops people developing COVID-19 in larger Phase 3 trials and early results from this crucial stage are expected in the coming weeks.

“We were pleased to see that our vaccine was not only well tolerated in older adults, but also stimulated similar immune responses to those seen in younger volunteers,” said Dr Maheshi Ramasamy, an investigator at the Oxford Vaccine Group.


“The next step will be to see if this translates into protection from the disease itself,” she said.

This means there are now four promising vaccines on the horizon after Pfizer-BioNTech, Sputnik and Moderna already reporting good preliminary data from Phase 3 trials.

The UK has already ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine, being manufactured by pharma major AstraZeneca.

The vaccine also has a tie-up with the Serum Institute of India.


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One Nation backflip sinks safeguards to prevent older workers being sacked under jobmaker | Unemployment

One Nation has backflipped on youth wage subsidies, teaming up with the Coalition to reject safeguards that would have prevented existing workers being sacked or losing hours to make way for new hires aged 35 and under.

In a rare display of unity on Tuesday, Labor, the Greens, One Nation and senators Rex Patrick and Jacqui Lambie voted to add the safeguard to the government’s jobmaker hiring credits bill, which will grant subsidies of up to $200 a week for younger workers.

The Coalition on Wednesday morning rejected the amendment in the House of Representatives setting up a standoff with Labor and the Senate.

The One Nation leader, Pauline Hanson, had warned on Tuesday that jobmaker left older jobseekers “overlooked and disadvantaged” and “would encourage the loss of full-time jobs and reduce job security”.

But when the government asked the Senate to drop the amendment on Wednesday evening, One Nation reversed its position and voted with the Coalition, delivering the government a 30 to 28 votes win.

Hanson said she had been persuaded by the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, that due to protections in the Fair Work Act employers “can’t just go and sack people … it can be challenged”.

The One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts said the minor party had been persuaded by the fact youth unemployment stood at 10.4% compared with unemployment of 4% for those aged over 35.

Both Roberts and the government leader in the Senate, Simon Birmingham, denied a deal had been done. Rather, Roberts said he and Hanson had “the courage and integrity to change our minds”. “We were wrong on the amendments – we stand corrected.”

Labor’s employment spokesman, Brendan O’Connor, said introducing a “loophole” in the legislation by eliminating the safeguard would allow “rogue employers to displace or sack workers”.

“Not only is this grossly unfair, but it will fail to deliver net additional jobs that the government has promised,” he said. “The scheme is called jobmaker. Right now, it looks more like jobtaker.”

Earlier, in question time, Labor used every question to probe jobmaker, including the exclusion of workers over 35, lack of safeguards, and discriminatory job ads seeking younger workers.

In response, Scott Morrison doubled down on incorrect claims he made in October that employers could not sack existing staff and receive the subsidy.

Morrison cited safeguards in the rules that require employers to increase their headcount and payroll to access jobmaker hiring credits, and counter-punched by accusing Labor of “seeking to create fear in a pandemic”.

Earlier, before the lower house vote, the Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, said it was “totally unacceptable” that the unamended bill would provide a financial incentive for employers to sack existing staff.

Albanese said if the government was “fair dinkum” about creating additional jobs, it had to vote for the safeguard.

“The fact is Labor will not tolerate a circumstance where those aged over 35 get done over as a result of legislation passed by this parliament.”

The Greens leader, Adam Bandt, said the safeguard does no more than legislate what the prime minister believes is the status quo, “that you can’t sack someone or reduce their hours of work to get this credit”.

Bandt rejected Morrison’s view by noting the scheme allows employers to “to pick up and put on two people on minimum wage at low hours of work” to replace one full-time worker.

The government claims that as well as the new headcount requirements, existing protections against unfair dismissal and adverse action in the Fair Work Act would prevent workers losing their jobs or hours.

The attorney general, Christian Porter, said that “all the usual protections apply” and sacking a worker to hire another on wage subsidies “would never be a valid reason” in law.

At the Senate inquiry, the Australian Council of Trade Unions president, Michele O’Neil, warned that casuals lack the protection of unfair dismissal laws, while adverse action laws had been “read down” to the point they were unusable.

Payments for the subsidy scheme will not be made until February and the government is consulting on the scheme’s rules until 27 November.

Labor argued there was time to consider safeguards without delaying payments.

But Frydenberg said in question time that Labor’s position was “delaying certainty” for business. He argued the credit was needed because in the last recession, youth unemployment took 15 years to return to pre-recession levels.

Birmingham noted in Senate debate that jobmaker credits are backdated to the budget on 7 October, saying it was a “shame on Labor” that they had created uncertainty over the rules while employers were considering new hires.

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Council of the Ageing joins unions in warning jobmaker could harm older workers | Australia news

The Council of the Ageing has joined unions in arguing youth wage subsidies do nothing to encourage the hiring of older workers and could even cause them to be sacked.

In submissions to a snap Senate inquiry, Australian unions and employer groups have welcomed the intent of the $4bn jobmaker hiring credit but warned it lacks safeguards and may not be enough to get businesses hiring again.

The Council of Small Business Organisations Australia (Cosboa) and the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) suggested youth wage subsidies may need to be increased, while the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry called for the program to be expanded to companies currently claiming jobkeeper.

The program, which proposes subsidies of $200 a week for new hires aged under 30 and $100 a week for those aged 30 to 35, is facing scrutiny after the Treasury revealed it was expected to create just 45,000 “genuinely additional” jobs despite 450,000 workers qualifying for the payment.

The most common complaints in Senate inquiry submissions were from unions, warning the hiring credit would promote insecure work, and from employers, the Council on the Ageing (Cota) and unions again that more needed to be done to help older workers.

Cota submitted that, although it supported the jobmaker program, it was “deeply disappointed that the other equally vulnerable population group, older workers, are not included in the scheme”.

“Once an older person becomes unemployed, in most cases they find it much more difficult to re-enter employment than younger people,” the council said. “People aged 55–64 years spend on average 36 weeks looking for work until they find employment, compared to 14 weeks for all age groups.”

Although employers have to increase headcount and payroll to receive subsidies, Cota said an employer could “theoretically displace one older worker from their role, and replace them with two part-time/casual younger workers under the scheme”.

“This provides a financial incentive on top of already pervasive age discrimination in Australia,” it said. “Proper safeguards must be built into the program to ensure older workers’ jobs are protected.”

Both Labor and the Greens have flagged amendments to the program to address concerns older workers could be sacked to make way for subsidised younger employees.

On Tuesday, Labor’s shadow employment minister, Brendan O’Connor, told ABC TV that he does “not quibble with the government focusing on 18 to 35-year-old” workers.

But he said Labor was concerned the scheme wasn’t “properly regulated”. The opposition wants to know what will prevent people over the age of 35 losing their hours or jobs and being “displaced” in favour of those eligible for subsidies.

In its submission, the Treasury claimed that existing laws prohibiting unfair dismissal and age discrimination would prevent employers from sacking older workers.

The Treasury also revealed employers are expected to hire young people before the formal rules for the program are written – because it will consult “with a view to the rules being settled” before they claim subsidies retrospectively after the first quarter.

Cosboa submitted its members believed the hiring credit was “too low” and needed to be “at least 50% higher” to reduce unemployment by 450,000.

The small business lobby group warned the $100 rate for those aged 30-35 was “too low to motivate small business owners to recruit a new, eligible worker”.

“The focus on younger workers may result in unintended negative consequences for recently unemployed mature-aged workers,” it said.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry in its submission said the hiring credit was a “welcome, practical measure to help address rising youth unemployment” but disagreed with the fact employers receiving jobkeeper wage subsidies are not eligible.

“This flies in the face of businesses that are in the restart and recovery phase where they will be starting to ramp up their businesses from a low base,” it said.

By using 30 September as the reference date for employee headcount, the jobmaker program could exclude employers whose “payroll would have gone down at that time” due to cuts to jobkeeper. The chamber proposed using a three-month average instead.

The ACTU warned parliament was being asked to pass the jobmaker hiring credit on “the basis of limited detail and trust” because none of the program’s safeguards were contained in legislation.

The treasurer will have discretion to change the program until October 2022, a period that includes “the forthcoming election period and extends beyond even the most pessimistic estimates of when normal parliamentary functioning will have resumed”, it said.

The ACTU submitted the program should have “additional safeguards which actively disincentivise the dismissal of existing staff”.

The peak union body warned that because workers are eligible after working 20 hours per week, many would have “insufficient income to cover basic living expenses”. There was no “strong policy basis” for the “arbitrary” cut-off age of 35, it said.

The ACTU warned that total subsidies would amount to $10,000 a year for younger workers or $5,000 for those aged 30 to 35, on par with the Restart subsidy which failed to create the desired number of jobs for long-term unemployed older Australians.

The Treasury argued younger workers had been targeted because in September those aged 15-34 had an unemployment rate of 10.2% compared with 6.9% for the total population.

“Young people have a larger share of working years ahead of them,” it said. “The long-term economic costs of becoming disconnected from the labour market is, therefore, much greater for young people.

“Older workers will generally have more substantial work experience to support them being re-employed.”

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