The Rudd Government’s announcement that the official retirement age will be progressively raised from 65 to 67 years may have, initially, past many by. Tucked away with the glossy budget announcements, Wayne Swan could have literally mumbled the words for all the prominence it was given from the Government.
While the changes will not come into effect until 2017, the increase represents the age at which people will be able to access the aged pension. This, along with as yet unannounced changes to the pension income test, is expected to save the Government billions of dollars.
It is of course partly through such savings that the Government hopes to make a dent in the largest budget deficit in Australia’s history. The budget deficit, largely due to the global financial economic crisis is clearly expected to be paid for by working class people through an extra two years of work. Not only will the Government receive an extra two years of taxes but also a delay in people applying for the pension.
The much anticipated and hard fought for weekly increase in the aged pension itself by $32 for singles and $10 for couples will also be boosted by the money saved through these measures. Not discounting the fact that these increases only just push the aged pension above the official poverty line, the Rudd Government is taking a lot with one hand and giving a little with another.
They state that due to the increase in life expectancy it is natural that the retirement age also rises. What they fail to recognize however, is that many workers, particularly those in manual labour will not be physically capable of continuing to work till 67, increased life expectancy or not.
There is also the issue to job availability to older Australians in the event that they lose their jobs. There is significant evidence that shows that even in white collar jobs people 40 years and over find it more difficult to gain employment based on their age. This is compounded by the increase in job losses in the manufacturing sector over the last 15 years in Australia.
The Rudd Government has also not ruled out any of the recommendations made in the Henry Review. One such recommendation is that workers, while being unable to access the aged pension, should also be denied access to their superannuation until this age to make sure they are working longer! In effect they would be denying workers of their right to access their own hard worked for money.
Two unions, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), have come out opposing the Government’s moves. They have vowed to fight the new reforms and to support the right for their members to retire and access the pension if required at 65.
This is a good start but words need to be put into action. It is vital that all trade unions are united in fighting this counter reform through a strong campaign that includes industrial action and mass rallies.