The Government last week committed the UK to enacting by
2006 an EU directive agreed last October outlawing ageism. Clearly, the ageism
debate has moved on from whether we should have a law against ageism to
focusing on what that law should encompass. The Government has set up a working
party and has invited the CIPD to participate.
Employers have responded positively to the news, in
particular the plan to axe the compulsory retirement age, and it is clear the
business community has embraced the case for a more fair approach to older
The need to end ageism seems so clear cut that it seems
surprising it exists at all. However, the reality is that ageism is rife in the
workplace and has long been exploited as a convenient way to deal with
workplace problems. This is true of organisations which routinely screen out
older staff in the recruitment process, for example, or of companies who
deflect criticism of large-scale redundancies by actively encouraging early
voluntary retirement among older workers.
Getting employers to change their ways will be a challenge
for HR practitioners. Complying with anti-ageism legislation will require an
overhaul of HR policies and practices in areas including management awareness
of the issue, succession planning, appraisal and flexible working.
For its part, the Government must make sure the legislation
is workable. Employers are behind the spirit of the proposed law but they will
not welcome the prospect of large fines for practices which are unavoidable.
Over the next few months it is important that HR professionals identify where
the new law must allow for exceptions and in what situations employers can use
their discretion over compliance and communicate this to the Government’s