Time To Scrap Retirement Age

Posted on: 06 October 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

It's legal to fire workers at age 65, but the Civil Service decision to remove retirement age could herald change.

The Cabinet Office has announced plans to remove the mandatory retirement age across the civil service, setting an example to other employers.

Catharine Pusey, Director of The Employers Forum on Age (EFA) says, "We welcome the civil service's decision to remove the unfair and discriminatory practice of being able to insist their employees retire at 65 and hope that it helps focus the Government's mind ahead of the result of the Heyday challenge."

UK law allows employers to dismiss workers once they reach age 65. In September the European Court of Justice initially rejected a legal challenge to mandatory retirement ages, mounted by Age Concern and the charity's Heyday offshoot.

Gordon Lishman, director general of Age Concern says, "This is a set back, but it is not a disaster. Not having the Advocate General's support for our case is disappointing for us and for the millions of older workers in the UK."

"The Advocate General's opinion confirms that the EU Directive requires age discrimination to be justified. It's now up to the UK government to prove to the High Court that their social and employment policies are important enough to justify kicking people out of work at 65. Until then, older workers face more uncertainty about their right to work."

This is not a minority issue. Ageism blights many employees' careers.

"In the UK ageism is already the most commonly experienced form of prejudice and more than a million people are already working past state pension age," explains Lishman. "Millions of older workers in the EU will be fuming that the Advocate General thinks ageism counts for less than other forms of discrimination."

Scrapping mandatory retirement age would actually benefit businesses, according to Pursey.

"The EFA has been working with a growing number of enlightened employers who have chosen not to use the default age and instead allow employees to retire when it suits both parties. Far from being a burden, this new flexibility has resulted in significant business benefits; filling skills gaps and keeping valuable members of their workforce."

As working lives get longer an important part of the work that The EFA are doing is to ensure that their members understand age legislation in all its intricacies and benefit from having an age diverse workforce. The EFA's long-term campaign is to persuade the Government to commit to remove the retirement age in 2011 - rather than merely reviewing it. This will provide clarity for employers and employees and give employers several years to prepare.

Pursey concludes, "We firmly believe that it is inevitable that employers will eventually have to follow suit and the default retirement age (DRA) will be removed altogether."

The European Court of Justice will give its retirement age ruling in December. If this switches to the campaigners' favour, the case could return to British courts for a final hearing.

Ailsa Olgive, director of Heyday, explains, "We are challenging this law because it is costing good workers their jobs. If the European Court confirms this opinion, the case would then have to go back to the High Court in London for a final decision. We hope the High Court would not want to remove the choice for people to work in later life if they wish to or if they need to."

"Denying people work because of their date of birth is grossly unfair, and in these tough times we expect more people will need to carry on working into 'retirement' in order to make ends meet."

Web Links

The Employers Forum On Age www.efa.org.uk

Age Concern www.ageconcern.org.uk

What's Your View?

Should there be a set retirement age? Would you prefer to retire at 65 or carry on working? Have you experienced ageism? You can share your views and experiences by leaving a comment below or visiting the 50connect forum.

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