Saturday 1 October could be the day Britain finally turns its back on age discrimination in the workplace once and for all. It's the day that thedefault retirement age, which gave employers the right to fire people aged 65 and over purely because of their age, is abolished. From this date, for the first time, people over 65 will get full employment rights, ending this grossly unfair policy.
The end of the DRA results from several years of campaigning by Age UK and is a welcome victory for individual choice and economic independence – important principles in a modern liberal democracy.
Jobseekers over 50 statistically find it harder to get a job than any other age group, and there are now over 100,000 people in this age group who have been out of work for two years or more.
This is both a human tragedy and a tragic waste of valuable skills and talent. By removing the "best before" date for workers , we hope that the ageist culture, endemic in many workplaces, will finally be a thing of the past.
In addition, we firmly believe abolishing the DRA will benefit businesses. Too many employers are sadly short-sighted in their employment practices. Being forced to properly manage their older workers will, over time, enable them to recognise how those workers' skills and experience can directly benefit their business.
Similarly, having to be more open minded about age will also help them in recruitment. For many employers it will open up an entire new demographic section of the workforce, among which is a vast pool of skills and knowledge waiting to be tapped into.
By coincidence, 1 October is also the fifth anniversary of the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations. While this nominally extended some rights and made age discrimination illegal, it also introduced the default retirement age – effectively undermining the rest of the provisions by giving employers a "get out of jail free" card, allowing them to be complacent about addressing the issue and improving their workplaces.
We are optimistic that abolishing the DRA will be the start of a sea change in attitudes towards older workers so that in the near future ageism becomes as unacceptable in the workplace as racism or sexism. But changing organisational policy is one thing, changing how a business operates is quite another. While HR departments may have made some improvements since 2006, the message about being "age friendly" has all too often not got through to line managers. This is crucial as it is in the engine room of a business, not necessarily the board room, where ageism is most persistent.
Abolishing the default retirement age is a good start, but it will take a clearer statement from the government – that age discrimination in any form will not be tolerated – for the message to really be embraced by Britain's employers.
Article from The Guardian