Age discrimination

The Department for Education and Employment estimates that by 2010, almost
40 per cent of the UK’s workforce will be over the age of 45. Over the next 20
years, the proportion of 50 to 64 year olds in the EU is also expected to rise
by 26 per cent. These statistics indicate that age issues, and thus age
discrimination, are likely to become increasingly important.

The current position

Work and Pensions Minister Ian McCartney recently restated the Government’s
commitment to fighting age discrimination in the workplace. These are fine
sentiments, but many are more circumspect about the Government’s willingness to
outlaw ageism, citing previous broken election promises and the lack of support
for the Employment (Age Discrimination in Advertisements) Bill. The only
positive step made by the Government to address the issue has been the Code of
Practice on Age Diversity in Employment, which is voluntary and lacks sanctions
for non-compliance.

The latest developments

The Age Discrimination (No. 2) Bill 2002 has now been introduced to the
House of Commons. It has little chance of becoming law, but could be a useful
guide to how the issue will be dealt with in the future, when the UK implements
the EC Framework Directive 2000, which requires the UK to ban age
discrimination at work by December 2006.

The draft Bill contains provisions to outlaw direct and indirect
discrimination on the grounds of age; prohibit the inclusion of a normal
retirement age clause in contracts of employment; create an offence of
specifying an actual or upper preferred age limit for a job; and establish an
Age Equality Commission to monitor the implementation of the Act.

Employers canvassed by the Employers Forum on Age questioned the wisdom of
abolishing mandatory retirement ages – 75 per cent preferred a flexible,
10-year retirement period.

Another potentially big issue for employers is the scope of the future
discriminatory law. In the US, legislation only applies to employees over 41,
but the Framework Directive has no such limitation, significantly including
‘youth-ism’ too. Taking age out of peripheral issues such as redundancy
calculations, unfair dismissal and pension matters will also be major changes.

The directive has spurred the Government to announce plans to form a single
equalities commission to monitor all forms of workplace discrimination. There
have been calls to couple this with a single piece of legislation covering
every area of discrimination. However, has the Government really got the
political will to start an overhaul of all areas of discrimination law?

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