Ministers outlaw age limits on jobs

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT is to ban age limits on all vacancies in Job Centres as part of a drive to tackle age discrimination by employers.

The Employment minister, Andrew Smith, announced the move when he unveiled plans for a business code of practice to remove ageism from the workplace. However, the code will only be voluntary and charities and MPs repeated their call for legislation to prosecute firms that refused to hire people because they were too young or too old.

Mr Smith did not rule out the idea of anti-discrimination laws, but made clear that the Government believed that the rising number of workers over 50 would soon force employers to change their ways. A quarter of all employees will be aged 50 or over by the year 2006 and no business could afford to ignore such a growing sector of the workforce, he said.

A report published yesterday by the Department for Education and Employment stated that that those over 50 suffered the worst discrimination when it came to getting and keeping a job. The voluntary code of practice - which is to be published in the autumn following consultation with industry, unions and age charities - could form a "soft law" in industrial tribunals, Mr Smith said. Even people in their 40s were experiencing discrimination, and it was important to send a message to employers that age prejudice was unacceptable, he added.

As a first step, the Government is removing upper age limits from all job advertisements in Job Centres. If any jobless person is turned down at interview stage because of their age, Job Centres will also stop using that firm's vacancy adverts.

"While this initiative will not in itself eliminate age discrimination in employment, the Government believes it is a positive step which will send a clear signal to employers about our commitment to assist older workers," the report states. The New Deal programme will also be used to help older unemployed people into jobs.

Mr Smith said it was important to challenge the assumption that it was cheaper and more effective to employ a younger person.

"There are firms like B&Q who have recognised very positively the benefits to their operation, to their customers, as well as the benefits to employees of actually having an age diverse workforce - older workers working alongside younger workers in a way that works very successfully," he said.

Age Concern England said the new code was a good start, but it could easily be ignored by bad employers and had ultimately to be backed up by legislation.

"It is vital that adequate provisions are made to ensure that no person is discriminated against on the grounds of age," said director general Sally Greengross.

Labour MP, Linda Perham, who tried unsuccessfully to introduce a Private Members Bill to outlaw ageism, said that while the code and Job Centre move in particular were welcome, legislation was vital.

"The United States have had laws on this since 1967. There are other countries in Europe and Australasia where they are in force and yet here we have no law at all," she said. "The Government says this is a complex area, but that was the excuse that was used to try to halt legislation banning discrimination on grounds of race and sex."

The CBI claimed that the voluntary code would be more effective than legislation such as that proposed by Ms Perham. "It would be unworkable, ineffective and would prove an unnecessary burden on business. There is little evidence from other countries that such legislation works," he said.

How We Are Ageing

In 1951, there were 300 people in the UK aged over 100. In 2031, there will be 34,000.

By 2006, the largest group of the working population, 24 per cent, will be aged between 55 and 64.

From 1991 to 2011, the number of people aged between 45 and 54 is set to increase by 2.3 million.

In 1900, average life expectancy in this country was 50. By 1993 it had risen to 77 for men and 81 for women.

In the United States, laws prohibit discrimination against anyone over 40, with no upper age limit for filing a claim.

Supermarkets, fastfood restaurants and DIY stores - are recruiting older workers because of longer opening hours.

Researchers have claimed that people aged over 47 work more effectively than younger colleagues in the morning.

A 1997 survey revealed that four out of five workers over 50 believed they had suffered age discrimination.

Anti-ageism campaigners claim that older workers are more loyal to their employers and take less time off.

In 1968, there were four people of working age funding the pension of each pensioner. By 2040, this will be down to two people per pensioner.