Government wins appeal to prevent over-65s securing full employment rights

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The Independent Online

Ministers were accused yesterday of betraying the pensioner workforce after government lawyers successfully appealed against a ruling that had given the over-65s the right to claim unfair dismissal and redundancy pay.

The decision will leave an estimated 250,000 working men and women without any legal protection if they are forced out of their jobs. Last year John Rutherford, 72, and Samuel Bentley, 75, successfully challenged laws that prevented workers over 65 claiming full employment rights.

In May the Government launched an appeal to reverse the decision, claiming that the original hearing had ignored relevant statistics.

Mr Rutherford and Mr Bentley argued that under European law they suffered indirect sexual discrimination because more men than women over 65 continued working. Mr Rutherford, from Rainham, Essex, who worked for the clothes wholesaler Harvest Town Circle in London, was not given any redundancy payment when he was laid off at 67. Neither was Mr Bentley, from Islington, north London, who lost his job as a tailor for Bodner-Elem Ltd, London, when he was 73.

In a joint action at Stratford employment tribunal in east London, the men challenged the Trade and Industry Secretary because both their former employers had ceased trading. But yesterday the Employment Appeals Tribunal accepted government lawyers' arguments that there was no sex discrimination.

At the hearing in May, David Pannick QC, representing the Department of Trade and Industry, said that it was incorrect to conclude that there was sex discrimination against men when the majority of the workforce was under 65, and therefore not discriminated against by the law. Although the arguments during the original tribunal centred on sex discrimination, yesterday's decision applies to men and women.

Gordon Lishman, director general of Age Concern England, said that the ruling was a betrayal of all workers over 65. "People over 65 should have exactly the same workplace rights and protection as everyone else," he said. "We urge the Government to amend the Employment Relations Act so that employees have full rights at work, whatever their age."

A spokesman for the TUC said: "This is a disappointing decision but today's workers can look forward to protection against age discrimination when the Government implements new European laws."

Paul Quain, of the law firm Charles Russell, who was representing Mr Rutherford, said: "Mr Rutherford ... is clearly going to be very disappointed, especially as there was a very strong decision in his favour in the court below." The men are considering whether to appeal against yesterday's ruling.