Employers back push to allow pensioners to work more without losing government payment

Article by Claire Armstrong courtesy of The Gold Coast Bulletin.

Gina Rinehart says pensioners could help boost Australia’s struggling health workforce. Fiona Simson supports pensioners returning to work to fill critical labour shortages in her sector.

A push to allow pensioners and veterans to work more without automatically losing government payments has been backed by small business, farming and mining employers.

Independent MPs Rebekha Sharkie and Dai Le on Monday introduced a “let pensioners work” motion to parliament as a solution to help retired Australians cope with the soaring cost of living and also fill dire labour shortages.

Under current rules, single pensioners with no other income or assets lose half of every dollar they earn above $490 a fortnight.

The MPs’ call for an opt-in system for retired Australians to take on more work and pay regular income tax without suffering “unfair” economic penalty has already won the support of key industry groups and executives.

National Farmers Federation President Fiona Simson said the farm sector’s labour crisis was hurting the economy and hitting consumers’ hip pocket.

“We need to pursue every solution,” she said. “That means supporting older Australians who are willing to pitch in at a seriously challenging time.”

Hancock Prospecting executive chairwoman Gina Rinehart said the policy would be a “win-win-win-win” for pensioners and veterans who “deserve the right” to work without onerous paperwork.

She said it could help ease acute staffing shortages in aged care, hospitals and other sectors.

Council of Small Business Organisations Australia chief executive Alexi Boyd said employers needed the government “remove the barriers” so those who wished to work could do so.

Ahead of the Skills Summit in September, the federal government indicated it was open to considering the initiative, while the opposition and many crossbench MPs have also pledged their support.

Ms Le said pensioners in her electorate of Fowler were suffering in the cost-of-living emergency.

“Allowing them to gain additional income ensures they have short-term relief in these tough economic times, and will also see labour shortages filled.”

Ms Sharkie said businesses in regional Australia were “crying out for more staff”.

“In our seniors, we have an experienced workforce that, like many Australians, is facing cost of living pressure and wants the opportunity to earn a wage without being unfairly penalised,” she said.

“This is a single solution to two major issues that just makes sense.”

National Seniors Australia chief advocate Ian Henschke said there were thousands of aged pensioners and department of veterans affairs service pensioners who wanted to work more.

“We need to change this so the system rewards, not punishes them,” he said.

“It will then be a win for the whole economy when we do.”

Mr Henschke said Deloitte Access Economics had estimated if older worker participation increased by just three per cent it would add $36 billion to the nation’s GDP.