The Employers Forum on Age has accused the European Court of Justice (ECJ) of being “behind the times” following its decision to refer the Heyday legal challenge to the default retirement age back to the UK High Court.
The ECJ decision means that, subject to a further decision from the High Court, employers can continue to lawfully retire employees at 65. The court will now look at whether the default retirement age is justified under European law, looking only at ‘legitimate social policy objectives’ – not the interests of individual businesses.
EFA director Catharine Pusey said: “We are disappointed, though not surprised, by today’s judgment. This further proves that both the ECJ and government regulations are completely behind the times in recognising the changes and pressures in the modern workforce and society.
“Meanwhile, enlightened and forward-thinking employers – many of them our members – are moving ahead and promoting policies that make no assumptions about people’s employability based on age.”
Ministers now face accusations of double standards as last year they scrapped mandatory retirement ages for civil servants, but failed to change the law to benefit all UK employees.
Neil Bhan, pensions partner at law firm Beachcroft, said: “By not making the use of a default retirement age discriminatory, the decision doesn’t help the government’s stated aim of ensuring that the age regulations help older people to have the opportunity to carry on working and earning towards a retirement after age 65.”
Schona Jolly, discrimination specialist at Cloisters chambers, added: “As the ECJ has backed the government’s view of European law – it clearly believes age discrimination to be a lesser evil than other types of discrimination. However, this is by no means the end of the road for anti-discrimination campaigners and the outcome is still far from certain.”
The government has said it will review the default retirement age in 2011. Personnel Today is calling on the government to commit to reviewing it sooner.