What’s going on? As anti-age discrimination legislation looms and an ageing
population’s pension funds and retirement plans hang in limbo, two government
departments are bickering, unable to decide on whether to change the mandatory
retirement age or scrap it altogether.
In December 2006, the EU law banning age discrimination at work kicks in,
and if the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department of Trade and
Industry don’t pull their fingers out and decide which way they are going, HR
departments will have little time to change their policies to ensure they are
on the right side of the law.
The Government’s dithering could prove costly. In the US, for the first time
in more than 20 years, the number of age-bias complaints filed by federal
employees exceeded the number filed by employees who said they were
discriminated against because they were black.
Already in the UK, eight out of 10 workers over 50 claim to have been
victims of age discrimination. And, with an ever-ageing workforce, the number
of potential lawsuits looks set to soar.
Currently, people aged over 60 make up about 21 per cent of the total
population. According to United Nations population projections, this number
will rise to 28 per cent in 2023 and will reach 33 per cent by 2033. By then,
the workplace will look like a totally different place from today.
Even the DTI is concerned about the future. It is worried about how
unprepared employers appear to be about the whole issue, and how few seem to
have shored up policies to ensure they comply with the EU age discrimination
law which is a mere two years’ away. It has launched a taskforce to tackle
changing workforce profile, and to advise employers how to act.
Employers should applaud this initiative but right now, it doesn’t really
cut to the chase.
To properly plan and prepare for an ageing workforce and huge changes in
employment practices, employers need to know how, why and whether the
Government is planning to scrap the retirement age, retain the status quo, or bump
it up by five years.
There are arguments supporting all three options, but government leadership
and decision-making on this issue are absolutely vital.
The clock is ticking, the workforce isn’t getting any younger and employers
are seriously hampered in almost every aspect of people management – succession
planning, retirement policies, performance and occupational health issues,
No-one – including the employees themselves – can afford to hang around like
By Quentin Reade, news editor