A charity director claims the Island’s potential pensions crisis could be eased at almost no cost simply by adding a word to the Human Rights Act.

James McCulloch, treasurer of Age Concern, says it is “high time” discrimination on the grounds of age is outlawed.

And his wish may be about to come true. Families Minister Glenn Blakeney told The Royal Gazette that Government is actively looking into the issue, as part of a review of the Act.

Mr McCulloch said banning age discrimination would allow people to work longer if they wished, keep earning and potentially remain on their occupational health insurance scheme.

“It would mean people couldn’t be discriminated against when they went looking for a job, which is happening to a lot of people now,” he said. “People are turning them down just because they are 65.

“Some people are suffering from age discrimination, which is still not illegal. It’s not in the Human Rights Act.”

He said a change to the 1981 law would be swift and inexpensive and would ensure older job hunters could not be discriminated against because of their age.

“To many people it would make all the difference in the world to be able to work and, in some cases, be able to join a health scheme if they could,” said Mr McCulloch.

As highlighted in a special report in The Royal Gazette last week, there is expected to be a 150 percent increase in the number of new seniors claiming a benefit from the Contributory Pension Fund (CPS) in 2011.

Meanwhile, the labour pool is shrinking, due to falling birth rates and unemployment.

The minimum monthly benefit from the CPS for a senior with 100 percent paid social insurance contributions is $951.73, according to the Department of Social Insurance.

Mr McCulloch said monthly premiums for most private health insurance plans for seniors were at least $1,000. FutureCare, the state health care plan for those aged 65 and above, costs $635 a month.

The Ministry of Health said last week about ten percent of people in Bermuda have no health insurance at all, though it couldn’t give a figure for how many were seniors.

Shadow Health and Seniors Minister Louise Jackson said she had long called for age to be included under the Human Rights Act but had never got anywhere.

“They just look at me and roll their eyes,” she said. “They have never said that they are looking at it.”

Mr Blakeney told this newspaper: “The Department of Human Affairs is reviewing the Human Rights Act 1981.

“In order to consider the matter fully, there needs to be a great deal of stakeholder consultation with private sector employers, pension providers and others before any proposals can be recommended for consideration.”

He said the Department had been researching information specifically relating to “age discrimination in employment”.

The Minister added: “Moreover, the Bermuda Government has led the way in prohibiting discrimination in employment based on age and have, for example, amended the Public Service Commission Regulations to employ civil servants up to the age of 70, under specified circumstances.

“The Ministry is cognisant of the fact that age discrimination can occur in other areas as well, including the availability of vocational and education opportunities.

“As a result, research would not be complete if we did not consider the effect of age discrimination on young people, since discrimination based on age can also affect them.”

Martin Law, executive officer of Bermuda Employers’ Council, said in some cases keeping a senior in a job could mean a younger person losing out on work, particularly as the Island’s unemployment rate continues to rise.

“To mandate that you have to allow somebody to work after 65 is a very difficult concept to get your head around, he added. “This is not really a solution [to the pension crisis]. There are no simple solutions to these difficult problems.”

Mr Law said many people older than 65 continued to work but it wasn’t always possible for an employer to keep a person on past retirement age.

“It depends whether they are up to the job, whether the employer requires them. There are all sorts of considerations that have to be taken into account.”

It wasn’t possible to reach HRC chairman Shade Subair for comment.

Useful websites: www.ageconcern.bm, www.hrc.bm, www.bec.bm, www.gov.bm

Article from Royal Gazette