Firms told to act now on age bias

Employers
are under pressure to introduce age discrimination policies in advance of
legislation to be introduced in 2006.

The
warning came at two separate events last week. Equal opportunities minister Margaret
Hodge told a CIPD meeting in London that companies must take the lead in the
fight against age discrimination in the workplace.

Meanwhile
at the Eversheds Employers’ Convention in Brighton lawyer Martin Hopkins
stressed it was important for employers not to wait until the new law was
introduced but to act immediately.

He
said, “Age diversity is a critical issue and one which employers must act on
now. The population shift means that, by 2016, the largest segment of employees
will be 45-64. We are advising employers not to wait until the introduction of
legislation in 2006 but to put in place appropriate working procedures and
establish best practice now.”

A
survey of 150 top HR professionals at the conference revealed that 11 per cent
considered their workforce as truly diverse but more than 90 per cent
identified skills shortages as a problem for their business.

Hopkins
highlighted Peugeot, Continental Tyres, Volvo Penta, Zanussi, B&Q and
Nationwide as employers which already had excellent policies to promote age
diversity.

Hodge
warned that new laws, which will accompany a European directive banning ageism
at work, will be ineffective unless they are supported by business.

The
minister blamed companies such as Ford, which favours voluntary early retirement
as a way to downsize, for the lack of older people in the workforce.

She
said, “Ford is one of the worst examples – when it says it hopes to lose 3,500
people at its Dagenham plant, mainly through voluntary redundancy that is
accepted by society as being a legitimate way of reducing your workforce.”

Feedback
from the profession

Personnel
Today asked HR professionals at Eversheds’ Employers’ Convention whether they
already had age diversity policies in place.

Lisa
Connellen
Employee relations adviser, Cap Gemini Ernst & Young
– “As employers we have to take an active stance on this issue. We are
currently looking at our recruitment, selection and training procedures. Older
people can work from home which matches our working patterns.”

Libby
Minnihan
HR Officer, Walker Food Snacks
– “Is there an obligation for employers to introduce age diversity
policies? No. Employers will do what they want. There is a recognition among
employers that there is a shortage of skills and that if you want the business
to attract and retain that skill level you need to look at the widest pool
possible.”

John
David
Personnel director, Companies House
– “There are enormous business benefits to employing older workers because
of their experience, the complexity and change of pace of technology today –
there is nothing to replace experience and experience balanced with the
enthusiasm of younger workers is very beneficial to the workplace. We don’t
specifically recruit older workers.”

Carol
Lower
Human resources officer, Waveney District Council
– “We take seriously the voluntary code of practice [on age] and its
message is cascaded throughout the organisation. We have an annual monitoring
exercise of our workforce which looks at trends and issues and hopefully our
policies will have an effect by the time the legislation comes in.”

David
Tugwell
Compensation and Benefits Officer, British Alcan Rolled Products
  “Age diversity has been
highlighted in our company as part of our flexible working practices. They have
acknowledged that the workforce is ageing and that they can’t get young people
on board because they prefer working in the service industries. The company is
left with a fairly old workforce so they are concentrating on retaining the
people that they’ve got by training them up and team working.”

Mark
Fraser

HR manager, Cap Gemini Ernst & Young
– “We are not looking at our workforce from an age point of view. We want
policies in place which encourage experienced workers to stay with us. We have
just introduced a system which removes the date of birth from application forms
to ensure that recruitment is free of age bias.”

Tina
Cull
Head of HR at drugs, alcohol and mental health charity Turning Point
– “We would benefit from employing older workers as they are more
experienced. We don’t have age diversity policies but we have equality policies
which mean that we don’t discriminate on the basis of age. We do have a maximum
retirement age which is something that we are looking at scrapping or extending.”

By
Richard Staines

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