Default retirement age abolished

Posted on: 03 August 2010 by Gareth Hargreaves

The mandatory retirement age is to be scrapped by the Coalition government, Baroness Sally Greengross questions whether adequate steps have been taken to benefit older workers seeking employment after 50.

While people who have campaigned over many years for the default retirement age of 65 to be abolished are delighted that it is at last  due to disappear, there are many issues that need to be resolved if it is really to help people seeking work after that age or, indeed, in the years from 50 onwards.

People meet huge resistance very often when applying for jobs because employers can feel reluctant to employ them, thinking that it is not worth training them with relevant skills for a short period, or sometimes think they are over qualified for a particular job or prefer to portray a ‘youthful image’in their company. A realistic cost benefit calculation, however, would demonstrate that older workers tend to stay for longer, not shorter, periods when appointed, thus saving money on recruitment and training and tend to have better sickness and overall attendance records. In the area of retail trading particularly it is also clear that customers prefer to be served by older workers so it does not make sense not to employ them. Obviously the problems are deeper and involve prejudice and negative attitudes which are still, sadly, prevalent and widespread in our society.

Fortunately the law now protects people against age discrimination, but attitudes are slower than legislation to change and we have to ensure that refusals to employ someone are based on genuine, not  discriminatory, reasons, such as their age, a disability they may have or something else, such as their race, ethnicity, religion sexuality or even their gender. If  someone feels they have been discriminated against an employment tribunal could be the answer and the Equality and Human Rights helpline or a local Job Centre Plus might also  be able to give advice.

However the biggest problem is that many employers are worried about how they are going to face having to dismiss someone who is incompetent, perhaps in their sixties, has worked for the firm for many years, and is a lot older than the young manager who has to take on that difficult  task and face someone, perhaps of his father’s age or more, and tell them they have to go.

Of course the answer is that our managers, and particularly our middle managers, have to be better trained and prepared  and they have to assess people throughout their working life and move them where necessary, to jobs they can do well, rather than staying in a role they no longer perform adequately. We all have to get used to changing jobs more frequently. And managers need to explore more quickly than previously was necessary, options such as flexible and part time working, which might suit many older workers, but also help young mothers, carers and disabled people to get into or remain in the work force – something the country desperately needs if our economy is to fully recover from the present economic downturn.

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