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A mandatory retirement age is discriminatory. It just doesn't make sense in a changing Ireland

Age Action’s Justin Moran argues that as people live longer lives, it is time to remove barriers preventing older people from working.

Justin Moran Age Action Ireland

EVERY YEAR, WORKERS in Ireland are forced out of their job for no other reason than they turn 65.

Many of them are highly skilled and experienced. They are able to work and willing to work, but none of that matters.

This is possible because Irish law permits employers to impose mandatory retirement ages in the contracts of their employees, in effect, facilitating ageism and creating a set of second-class employment rights for older workers.

The situation is made worse because the age for the State Pension has now been raised to 66 so someone forced out of their job at the age of 65 must go on the dole for 12 months at almost €50 a week less than they would get with a pension.

This is why there are more people on Jobseeker’s Benefit at the age of 65 than at any other age.

The recent government report Fuller Working Lives published this week did not include a commitment to abolish the mandatory retirement age, instead requiring employers to clearly state their policy on retirement age.

Loss of financial security

While some people can’t wait to retire, there are others who want to keep working. There is a large and growing group of workers who realise that with retirement comes a significant drop in income. For these people, the longer they can work, the more they can save.

One Age Action member, Angela Gallagher, faced severe hardship after being forced from her job with the Revenue Commissioners at the age of 65.

“I was trying to repay a mortgage to the bank and a loan to the credit union at the same time. It was extremely difficult to keep going,” she said.

I had to cut right back. I got rid of my telephone, got rid of my television and did anything I could do to save money. There were months when I didn’t know how I was going to pay the bank, when I worried whether I would be able to keep my home.

“The thing that annoys me the most is that none of this was necessary. I wanted to work and I was able to work. I liked what I did and I was good at it. If I hadn’t been forced out of my job I would have been able to work until I was secure.”

Others don’t want to lose the friends they have in the workplace or lose that sense of pride that comes with having a job and being able to make a contribution.

Discrimination loophole

Under EU Framework Employment Directive it is illegal to discriminate against workers on the basis of age, but there is a loophole.

Article 6 of the Directive says that Member States can choose to treat older workers differently if it is, “objectively and reasonably justified by a legitimate aim, including legitimate employment policy, labour market and vocational training objectives, and if the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary”.

Decisions at the European Court of Justice have found that such legitimate aims can include, for example, creating employment opportunities for younger workers.

But in reality, there is no evidence that forcing older workers onto the dole creates jobs.

A 2014 report from the IZA World of Labour research institute found that:

“There is no trade-off in the employment of young and old workers: Higher employment for older workers coincides with higher employment for younger workers.

Reducing the employment of older persons does not provide more job opportunities for younger persons.

The report also found that measures introduced in Denmark and France that reduced labour force participation for older workers saw drops in youth employment over the same period.

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The OECD has also rejected the argument and pointed out the relationship between employment among younger and older workers, “is positive and highly significant in statistical terms”.

Put simply, the more older workers in employment, the better for the economy and the better for employment more generally.

Early retirement doesn’t make sense in a changing Ireland

Ireland is changing. We might still be one of the youngest countries in the European Union, but the number of people aged 65 and over is expected to almost treble to 1.4 million over the next 30 years.

As people are living longer and healthier lives, it’s time to follow more and more countries around the world in abolishing mandatory retirement and removing one of the key barriers preventing older people from working.

Financially, it makes sense for an older worker be paying tax and contributing to the Exchequer instead of receiving payments from it.

And across Europe, more and more people see the logic. A 2012 Eurobarometer survey found that 61% of respondents felt people should be allowed continue working past the official retirement age, and that rose to 73% in Ireland.

Getting rid of mandatory retirement clauses is not about forcing people to stay working forever, it is about choice, about giving older workers the same job security as their younger counterparts and allowing them to decide when they wish to stop working.

Why should someone who is willing and able to do their job be forced out on their 65th birthday?

Justin Moran is Head of Advocacy and Communications with Age Action.

Read: Government criticised for refusing to close the ‘pension gap’ for older workers

Read: Poll: Should the State Pension age be dropped back to 65?

About the author:

Justin Moran  / Age Action Ireland

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