An age-old problem

clock.jpgA challenge to make it illegal for employers to force staff into retirement at the age of 65 has been rejected by an advisor to the European Court of Justice, sparking outrage from anti-ageism campaigners and prompting even the independent BBC to report the news as “a setback”.At face value it’s difficult to disagree with Heyday, the division of Age Concern that raised the challenge, which claims “denying people work because of their date of birth is grossly unfair”.At the moment, two thirds of UK companies operate a mandatory retirement age, which, again at face value, seems archaic.But like most issues, it’s not so simple. The law does dictate that businesses have a duty to consider requests from workers wishing to continue working beyond retirement age. According to research by the CBI, 30% of retirement age staff asked to postpone the move last year with 80% of those requests being accepted.The CBI argues this enables employer and employee to sit and discuss solutions that work for both sides – but Heyday argues this often isn’t how decisions are made, with companies automatically releasing people at 65 regardless of ability to continue working. Some 260 people have cases of unfair dismissal hinging on a ruling.So it’s a toughie. I’d like to say just change the law, most companies won’t be affected and those that do treat people unfairly will rightly face unfair dismissal tribunals. Except it’s not that straightforward is it? Changing the law swings everything too far the other way; opens the way for thousands of scurrilous claims and introduces even more hoops for lawful employers to jump through.I expect the law will eventually change, but fear we’ll end up with a situation where employers avoid any responsibility whatsoever by handing as many people as possible fixed-term contracts they can sever or renew at regular intervals. That, of course, will undo all the good work and it’ll be the lawyers and big companies that’ll be to blame.
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