Ian Henschke Chief Advocate for National Seniors Australia emphasises that the work bonus for pensioners should just be the beginning of national reforms | A Current Affair

Ian Henschke from National Seniors Australia. I think we need to recognise that we've got a jobs crisis in Australia, 450,000 plus jobs going begging and we've got 4.5 million Australians over 65. Ian says the work bonus should just be the beginning of major reforms in the system. He'd like to see Australia follow in the footsteps of New Zealand, where pensioners can work as much as they like without losing benefits. New Zealand has a workforce participation rate of 71%, we've got 66%, they've got 5% more of their population working and most of it is older workers. That's where they're getting their workforce from. Let's take the handbrake off the economy and let those pensioners work and let those retirees work.

Program courtesy of A Current Affair and Channel 9.

As labour shortages continue to spread across many industries, businesses in the coastal town of Queenscliff are turning to retirees and pensioners to reenter the workforce.

At the age of 78, Margaret Anderson has taken up a new position at restaurant 360Q.

Joining a multifaceted team that ranges from 15 to 78-year-olds, Anderson said her life wouldn’t be the same without her job.

Although she only works a few shifts a week and it gives her a bit of extra money, for Anderson it’s about more than that.

“I love the people I’m working with, I love the people I meet,” Anderson told A Current Affair.

“I’ll do this for as long as I can. I love it.”

However, for retirees and pensioners like Anderson, returning to the workforce has not always been as easy as it seems.

In previous years, those who decide to return to work while they are on the pension, have had to monitor their income amount to ensure their support payments are not penalised.

But this financial year, the rules have changed.

The federal government announced the new work bonus in September last year.

The initiative gives aged and veteran pensioners the ability to earn an extra $4000 compared to previous years, if they choose to return to the workforce.

This means, their income allowance is boosted from $7800 to $11,800.

Yet, with the bonus drawing to a close at the end of this year, some are calling for permanent legislation to be implemented.

The Chief Advocate for National Seniors Australia, Ian Henschke, said while he acknowledges the work bonus is a good step in the right direction, he believes the whole system needs to change.

Henschke believes a similar approach to New Zealand’s system should be adopted.

“New Zealand’s got a simple system, you work, you pay income tax and they just get on with it,” Henschke said.

“And surprise, surprise, they have a much higher workforce participation rate than we do here.

“The fact of the matter is, you’ve got to give people a chance to at least have most of the money that they earn, in their pocket.”

Henschke argued that allowing those on the pension to return to work, free of penalties, will benefit all.

“I think we need to recognise that we’ve got a jobs crisis in Australia with 450,000 plus jobs going … and we’ve got 4.5 million Australians over 65,” he said.

“We need workers desperately in aged care, childcare, home care, disability care and agriculture and tourism and hospitality.

“So, letting the pensioners work and earn a bit more is actually going to help.

“It will be a win for the industry, a win for the pensioner and a win for the economy.”

Statement by the Minister for Social Services – Amanda Rishworth:

The Albanese Labor Government is committed to improving the lives of older Australians through a range of positive policies designed to give them more choice and flexibility.

One of these is the boost to the Work Bonus income bank which began in December and will allow older Australians and Veterans the ability to work more without losing any of their income support payments.

The passage of legislation last year meant that from 1 December 2022 to 31 December 2023, pensioners over Age Pension age will benefit from an immediate $4000 increase in the maximum Work Bonus income bank balance – from $7800 to $11,800.

Around three per cent of pensioners report any income, but for those who do want to work this gives them more choice.

Older workers are an untapped market, having years of knowledge and skills to offer employers.

Giving older Australians the choice to engage in the workforce not only benefits them by ensuring they keep more of their pension, but it is also an important step towards addressing Australia’s labour shortages.