It is an issue which is hardly ever discussed in any great detail in public fora such as the popular daily talk shows. However, for a large segment of the Barbadian population, it is a reality being experienced for no other reason than the fact that they have reached a certain age.

We speak of age discrimination in relation to employment. It seems to be a fairly common problem, based on the limited information available.

Cedric Murrell, the president of the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB) dealt with one aspect in remarks at the labour grouping’s recent mid-term delegates’ conference. He referred to the controversial decision of the state-run Barbados Investment & Development Corporation (BIDC) a few months ago to retire a number of employees who had reached the age of 60.

The decision, which the BIDC argued was permitted by law, triggered an industrial dispute that almost mushroomed into a national shutdown which was averted at the eleventh hour through the mediation of the Social Partnership. Mr Murrell argued that even if the law allows statutory corporations like the BIDC to retire workers at 60, it should not apply because workers now have a legitimate expectation to continue in employment until 67, the new pensionable age set by the National Insurance Scheme (NIS).

However, the aspect of age discrimination on which there is crying need for more open discussion relates to the difficulty people over the age of 40 are reportedly encountering in their search for employment. Many persons complain that despite having the relevant experience and qualifications listed in advertised vacancies, their application does not yield as much as an invitation to attend an interview. Some have quietly given up.

It is a serious issue which trade unions should take up and speak more about, especially on behalf of members who have lost jobs, are generally healthy, have commitments like paying a mortgage or putting children through university, and would like an opportunity to continue being gainfully employed and contribute to national development. Discrimination is not allowed under the Constitution Of Barbados.

While opportunities must be provided for young people to enter the job market, care must be taken to ensure that there is fairness to ensure equal access for everyone.  Because persons are over 40 it does not mean they are no longer useful and should be discarded. They bring a lot to the table in the form of experience which, it is said, is the greatest teacher. Over-40-year-olds are assets to employers in that they can draw on this experience to guide younger employees who may have the certification but still need to learn the ropes on the job.

What makes age-related employment discrimination particularly worrying is the fact that Barbados is a country with an ageing population. The NIS’ decision to raise the retirement age to 67 was in recognition of this reality and the need for persons to work longer, as is happening in many other countries. The practice also contradicts a point emphasized by some employers –– and raised by young job seekers –– that experience matters.

To guarantee a level playing field for all job seekers, Barbados may wish to consider enacting an Age Discrimination In Employment Act to prevent persons over 40 from being treated less favourably because of their age. Such legislation would complement the Employment Rights Act passed by the incumbent administration.

People over 40 can make this happen. They represent a powerful voting bloc which can influence the outcome of general elections. Like what happens in more developed democracies, they can use this power to lobby and secure a commitment from political parties and election candidates to adopt policies that advance their interests.

People who believe they have suffered employment discrimination on the basis of age, should bring the issue to the attention of their MPs and other candidates and ask for a solution in an Age Discrimination In Employment Act. Elections will soon be here again.

The Barbadian tendency of complaining but doing nothing else will not bring about the kind of change people are yearning for. Denial of fair access to employment is not only a human rights issue, but also goes against the Barbadian ideal of building a fair and just society.

Article from Barbados Today