Publication Details

Bisom-Rapp, S., Frazer, A. & Sargeant, M. (2011). Decent work, older workers and vulnerability in the economic recession: a comparative study of Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Employee Rights and Employment Policy Journal, 15 (1), 43-121.


In countries with aging populations, the global recession presents unique challenges for older workers, and compels an assessment of how they are faring. To this end, the International Labour Organization's concept of decent work provides a useful metric or yardstick. Decent work, a multifaceted conception, assists in revealing the interdependence of measures needed to secure human dignity across the course of working lives. With this in mind, in three English-speaking, common law countries - Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States - this article considers several decent work principles applicable to older workers and provides evaluations in light of them. Relevant to the analysis is the role workplace law plays in each country in ameliorating or exacerbating older worker vulnerability.

Although the recession affected each country to a different extent, and the response of national employers to the crisis varied significantly, the effects of the financial crisis on older workers are strikingly similar. The recession has affected the quality of work for older workers; for many, employment has become more fragile, inconstant and insecure. Additionally, in all three nations, the recession compromised older workers' ability to plan for and secure a key decent work precept, a dignified retirement. Yet stronger national differences emerge when evaluating labor regulation affecting older workers. While all three countries prohibit age discrimination to varying degrees, such prohibitions by themselves do not greatly contribute to employment security for older workers. General labor standards, such as those restricting termination and layoff or requiring severance pay, and the provision of a robust safety net, are just as important in forestalling older worker vulnerability. By using decent work as a touchstone, and looking broadly at the intersecting factors that contribute to older worker insecurity, the outlines of needed policy reforms become clear.

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