Campaigners are calling on Government to clarify when it will fulfil its promise to outlaw age discrimination in the workplace.
A member of Age Concern quizzed Cabinet Ministers Bob Richards and Jeanne Atherden on the topic at the charity’s recent annual general meeting but got no answers.
Executive director Claudette Fleming told The Royal Gazette that the two politicians told the audience to direct questions about the proposed amendment to the law to Community Affairs Minister Wayne Scott, who didn’t attend the AGM.
The Minister did not respond to a request for an update from this newspaper by press time last night.
Ms Fleming said age discrimination in the workplace was a crucial issue for Bermuda’s seniors at a time when the cost of living was rising and state pensions were at a standstill.
She said of Mr Richards and Ms Atherden: “Their response to that was ‘that’s not our area’.”
Meanwhile, Charles Jeffers, Age Concern’s chairman of community advocacy, said any legislative advances to change workplace age discrimination stood to benefit Government as well as seniors, since the Island faces a diminished workforce.
Some seniors would want to remain working after mandatory retirement, Mr Jeffers said — while others had bills to cover.
“There are others who might want to stay on, but not necessarily in the position of responsibility that they hold,” Mr Jeffers added. “They could be afforded a part-time or lower level position.”
Reliance on Financial Assistance could be reduced, and a role for seniors in the workplace “could help foster better attitudes among the young”.
Human Rights Commission executive director Lisa Reed told this newspaper: “The HRC is eager to see further amendments of the [Human Rights] Act to expand protection. Questions related to the Government’s plans to change policy or amend legislation should be directed to [the Minister].”
Commission chairman Michael Hanson added: “Our concerns about age discrimination are real. There is a huge amount of age discrimination in Bermuda. More protection needs to be inserted into the Human Rights Act. All we can do as commissioners is to recommend.”
Last month, Mr Hanson said the commission was drafting a list of recommendations to present to Government to bring the Human Rights Act 1981 up to date.
He added yesterday that it would be delivered in the next few weeks. “[Age discrimination] forms part of that. The classic example is the retirement age.”
The lawyer noted that in the UK the retirement age was abolished under the Employment Equality (Repeal of Retirement Age Provisions) Regulations 2011 and had “no real impact on business”.
Shadow Seniors Minister Derrick Burgess said changing the Human Rights Act to ban age discrimination should be top of Government’s agenda, adding that though his Progressive Labour Party didn’t make the change while in power for 14 years, he argued vociferously for it.
“We shouldn’t have no type of discrimination in this country, particularly age discrimination,” he said. “When those figures were put in place regarding [mandatory] retirement [at 65] it was way back in the fifties, when life expectancy was round about 63.
“Now life expectancy in Bermuda is much older. Sixty five today is very young. We are sending home a lot of knowledge. These are some of our best employees. We should never be discriminating against our people based on age.”
Mr Scott told Age Concern’s AGM in June last year that Government was looking at prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of age in the workplace but no timeline was in place.
He said Government was dedicated to ending all forms of age discrimination but more work had to be done to prevent unintended consequences.
“It’s something that’s actively on the agenda,” he said. “I cannot give a time frame but that’s something that my department is actively looking at now.”
As reported by this newspaper yesterday, Mr Richards told the Age Concern AGM on September 10 that state pensions would not be increased in the near future because “money does not grow on trees” and the contributory pension pot is massively underfunded.
The minutes of the meeting record an audience member as stating: “More emphasis should be put on age discrimination. Being dismissed at 65 and being replaced with foreign help, when still able to work efficiently at 65, this needs attention.”
Ms Atherden replied: “This does not come under my Ministry. However, I note that you have been in dialogue last year with my colleague, Minister Wayne Scott, and believe you should follow the issue up with him.”
Article from Royal Gazette