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Business Comment

David Prosser: Good riddance to age discrimination

Outlook Changes to employment regulation rarely work out as badly as businesses fear. In the run up to the introduction of the minimum wage in 1997, employers were queuing up to warn that higher unemployment would be the inevitable result. It did not turn out that way. Similarly, many of the worst fears of businesses about the abolition of the default retirement age are likely to prove unfounded.

Moreover, this is a change in the law that is long overdue. With the exception of a few special cases, in this time of longer life expectancies, pension shortfalls and more flexible labour practices, it just makes no sense to allow employers to force their staff to quit on a certain date.

Having said that, the Government does appear to be acting with indecent haste. The new rules will effectively come into force from April next year, but employers have not yet been given the detail of how the system will operate – specifically, the process they will have to go through in order to ask older workers to leave if they can show they're no longer capable of fulfilling their duties.

Still, the reaction of groups such as the British Chambers of Commerce and the Institute of Directors is bordering on the hysterical. Do these groups think that once the default retirement age is gone, vast armies of infirm pensioners will insist on keeping jobs they are not up to doing? It hardly seems likely.

In fact, all this change actually means is that employers will no longer have legal backing when they want to get rid of someone purely because of their age. And many will thank their lucky stars when the result turns out to be that their workforce becomes older and wiser.