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Ageism at work '42% of employers believe there's an upper age limit for customer facing roles'

But the solution to stereotyping is not simply to keep increasing the pension age, writes Justin Moran.

EVERY YEAR THOUSANDS of skilled, experienced and dedicated Irish employees are told to go home on their 65th birthday. They’re done. Their working life is, to all intents and purposes, over.

It makes little difference if they would like to keep working or if they need to keep working because Irish law permits employers to force people out of their job through mandatory retirement clauses in their contracts.

On Jobseeker’s Benefit at 65

Figures provided by the Department of Social Protection in July of last year indicated there were more people at the age of 65 on Jobseeker’s Benefit than at any other age.

These newly unemployed workers are getting almost €50 a week less than they would if they were entitled to a full State Pension. And unless the government acts soon, the situation will worsen in 2021 when the State Pension age rises to 67 and older workers face two years on Jobseeker’s Benefit.

Put simply, our employment and pension policies are failing older workers and the problem is getting worse day by day.

This week Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty TD suggested she is examining how we can support older unemployed workers to get back into the workforce.

Abolishing mandatory retirement

As welcome as this is, the first thing we need to do is to stop making the problem worse and for the government to aggressively move forward in support of legislation already before the Oireachtas to abolish mandatory retirement clauses.

But we need more than that. We need to seriously examine the issue of ageism in access to employment to support older people who wish to continue working.

A report on age and employment published by William Fry last year found that 87% of a survey of unemployed workers aged 55 or over believed their age was a factor in their inability to get work. It went on to highlight that 42% of employers surveyed believed there was an upper age limit for customer facing roles.

The most recent annual report for the Workplace Relations Commission indicated a substantial number of cases related to age with this ground for discrimination being cited in 161 complaints.

Challenging mindsets

Introducing schemes and supports for older unemployed workers is a good idea but we need to challenge mindsets as well. We need to confront the outdated stereotypes that once someone hits 60 they should be put in waiting room until they collect the State Pension. Older people have an enormous amount to offer as employees and as business people.

We hear lots of talk about the challenges of an ageing population, but little about the opportunities, about the skills and experience older people have, the difference they could make in the workplace if empowered and supported. We need to liberate that potential.

But we need to be cautious about treating all older people as a homogenous group. Many, particularly those in physically demanding jobs, do not want – are not able – to keep working. The pension age is already due to rise to 68 over the next ten years and we would be absolutely opposed to the suggestion floated last week by the ESRI to increase it again.

Not everyone works in an office. Forcing workers in physically demanding jobs like construction, agriculture or healthcare where there is a great deal of wear and tear on the body could have serious health implications.

The overwhelming majority of us are going to rely on the State Pension in retirement. We need to ensure it is fair and sustainable. But the solution is not simply to keep increasing the pension age.

Abolishing mandatory retirement, tackling ageism and providing the supports and training needed to encourage older workers to re-enter employment are all part of the answer.

Justin Moran is Head of Advocacy and Communications at Age Action Ireland.

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