While many UK employers are bracing themselves for a flood of age discrimination cases when new legislation is introduced next year, the new EU accession states will be worse off.
In the UK, 21% of workers over the age of 50 believe that they have been discriminated against, compared with almost three-quarters of all Czech jobseekers over 50.
A recent survey by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that while more than 90% of Czechs aged between 45 and 50 are in work, for those over 60, just 30% of men and 18% of women are employed.
According to employment experts in the Czech Republic, the problem is that employers tend to think people over 50 have bad work habits, are unable to adapt, and do not speak English.
Miriam Majdysov, from the Labour Office in Zln – a town in the Moravia province – said these concerns were often justified in some cases.
“Some Czechs are often unwilling to requalify, saying that at their age it’s too late and not worth starting again in what could be an entirely different job,” she said.
One of the main problems is that people born in the Czech Republic before 1960 have spent much – if not most – of their time in a communist regime, according to the Labour and Social Affairs Research Institute’s Lucie Vidovicov.
“As a result, they didn’t have as many chances to learn English or acquire computer skills as the younger generations,” she said.
She did concede, however, that because of prejudices, jobseekers over 50 often do not succeed even if the vacancy does not require the person to have a command of a foreign language or to be able to master a computer.
Vidovicov pointed out that Czech employers can currently afford to turn people down merely because of their age, as the country’s unemployment rate is relatively high and there are many candidates to choose from.
“That will soon change because the population is ageing and older workers will constitute the prevailing part of the labour force,” she said.
Vidovicov is not the only person who thinks that Czech companies have unjustified prejudices when deciding whether to take on older workers.
“It’s not just a question of experience – employers don’t seem to realise these men and women are often at a zenith as far as workplace performance goes,” said Petr Zhork, director of the Labour Office in Louny, a town in north-west Bohemia.
“And that’s not even considering the fact that they are more reliable, composed and appreciate having a job.”
Dalibor Zvacky, from the Labour Office in Karvin, north Moravia – one of the country’s hardest hit areas in terms of unemployment – admitted that to some extent, these prejudices are substantiated, not least because older people tend to take more sick leave.
“Managers can pay a younger person less, actually often just the minimum wage,” he told Personnel Today, adding that, in general, foreign companies operating in the Czech Republic give preference to younger employees.
Job hunting proves a long slog for over-50s
Unemployed Czechs over 50 take more time to find a job than their younger counterparts, according to labour officials in the country.
Jana Smejcov, head of the Labour Office in the north-western region of Most, said: “These people are on our register for an average of five years, compared with 256 days for the under-20s.”
In addition, the number of unemployed Czechs over the age of 50 seems to be growing.
“In 2000, they accounted for less than 15% of all people on our files, but at present, it is more than 28%,” said Petr Zhork, director of the Labour Office in the agricultural region of Louny.
In the country’s capital Prague – where the level of unemployment is one of the lowest – the 50-plus category accounts for almost a third of the total jobless.
“We don’t know what their original professions were, but in terms of what they want – or are able – to do, the choices are guards, porters and cloakroom attendants,” said Hana Vclavkov, from the city’s Labour Office.