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Pensioners may help ease staff shortages for SMEs

The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman has urged small and family businesses to hire people of all ages during the holiday period. 

Businesses of all sizes in every industry are experiencing the worst skill and labour shortages in more than two decades. 

Furthermore, the arrival of the new COVID-19 Omicron variant has also delayed the reopening of the international border for skilled migrants, working holidaymakers, and international students. 

According to Ombudsman Bruce Billson, reintegrating older skilled workers into the labour force will be crucial to Australia’s economic recovery without the new workers.

“Small and family businesses are eager to make the most of the festive season and Summer months of trade, but finding staff is now their biggest issue,” Mr Billson said.

“Vacancies are at an all-time high in the hospitality industry with more than 100,000 positions open across the country, particularly in tourism hotspots.

“That is why I am encouraging small and family businesses to be age-inclusive when they advertise for people and consider the many benefits that a mature worker can bring to the business.

“Age diversity is good for business. Older workers can elevate an entire workplace with their knowledge, experience and transferrable skills forged over many years.

Can pensioners address worker shortage?

Earlier, the national, state and territory chambers of commerce urged the Federal Treasurer to encourage greater labour-force participation by allowing age pension recipients to earn more without affecting their pension. 

However, there are significant barriers for retirees to re-enter the labour force.

According to the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a pensioner can earn an average of $480 per fortnight or $12,840 per year before their payments are reduced under the work bonus, assuming an effective marginal tax rate of at least 50 per cent. 

This equates to only one day per week at minimum wage before their pension is reduced. 

There is a significant untapped demand for people over the age of 65 to return to work. According to ABS data, the number of more hours worked by people over 65 has increased from 685,000 to over 978,000 in the last two years.

Andrew McKellar, chief executive of, Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said, “There is an army of older workers, ready and willing to return to the workplace. Yet, skilled aged pension recipients have little incentive to re-enter the workplace.” 

“In raising the Work Bonus threshold, pensioners would be allowed the opportunity to earn more, while businesses who are struggling to find staff would have access to workers, filling thousands of job vacancies.

“As the national, state and territory chambers of commerce, our united demand reflects the fact that businesses right across the country are crying out for workers. 

“This is a simple step the Federal Government must take to grow our workforce, boost our productivity and drive our economic recovery,” he said.

Support for a flexible work environment

The ombudsmen said that SMEs looking for employees should make sure that their advertisements include people of all ages and be flexible in teaching them skills on the job.

“Offer flexible working arrangements if possible to give workers at various life stages a chance to manage their work-life balance.

“This labour force shortage is a one-in-100-year problem for a range of industries, and we know Australian small, and family businesses are ready to lead the nation’s economic recovery.

“Above all, we want small and family businesses to survive and thrive into the new year, and that may mean casting the net a little bit wider to ensure you have a great team going forward.”

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Yajush Gupta

Yajush Gupta

Yajush is a journalist at Dynamic Business. He previously worked with Reuters as a business correspondent and holds a postgrad degree in print journalism.

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