July 3, 2008
Legal Fight to End Forced Retirement at 65
By Gerri Peev Political Correspondent
WORKERS could no longer be forced to retire at 65 if anti-age discrimination campaigners get their way in a European court.
Forcing employees who reach 65 to retire if they wish to continue working breaches equality laws, insist lawyers for Heyday, a group connected to Age Concern.
Their case, before the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, centres on claims that the UK Employment Equality (Age) Regulations are contrary to an EU directive which bans discrimination on the grounds of age.
David Manion, chief executive of Age Concern Scotland, said it was "ridiculous" that a person's skills and knowledge were often thrown away by bosses as soon as workers reached 65.
He said: "Our right to work should not be based on our age, but rather our knowledge, skills and motivation.
"The government's decision to allow employers to sack workers at 65 completely contradicts its stated aim of encouraging longer working lives."
Workers can be dismissed in the UK at 65 or older, according to a company's compulsory retirement age, without redundancy payments. Although staff have the right to ask to stay on, firms do not have to agree to their request.
The government is fighting the case, claiming its employment policy is a matter for national rules rather than an EU directive.
A spokeswoman for the equalities unit in the Cabinet Office said the department hoped it would eventually reach a position where the compulsory retirement age was scrapped.
The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform has defended the right of companies to use a default retirement age to help them "plan their workforce".
A spokeswoman said: "Our long-term aim is to move away from compulsory retirement, but a culture change is not possible overnight.
"However, many employers realise the value of recruiting, training and retaining older staff and introducing more flexible working practices."
A government review is under way on the default retirement age, but is not due to report until 2011.
With an ageing population, the government will be keen for people to defer retirement for as long as possible. However, companies are likely to resist the moves as younger staff are often cheaper and associated insurance costs are lower. The Confederation of British Industries has stated that fixing a compulsory retirement age is an essential management tool.
If the EU judges back Heyday's claim - a decision will not be announced until later this year - it could affect millions of Britons.
Around 260 age-discrimination claims brought before employment tribunals in the UK have been put on hold pending the result of the challenge.
In the UK, an estimated 1.2 million people work beyond state pension age.
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