Setback in battle against compulsory retirement

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The Independent Online

Campaigners for age equality today lost a key stage in their legal battle to banish the compulsory retirement age in the UK.

An Advocate-General at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg rejected Age Concern's claim that compelling people to stop work at or after 65 without compensation breaches EU equality requirements.

Today's legal opinion is a blow to hundreds of people forced to retire against their wishes who are claiming compensation through UK employment tribunals.



About 260 cases are already on hold in tribunals, awaiting the outcome of the Age Concern test case, and thousands more claims could follow from pensioners forced to retire against their will.

But the Advocate-General has now argued that a fixed retirement age is not necessarily contrary to EU rules.

Lawyers for Age Concern told a hearing earlier this year that the UK Employment Equality (Age) Regulations breach the EU's Equal Treatment Directive, which bans employment discrimination on grounds of, amongst other things, age.

The UK Regulations, introduced in 2006, do ban discrimination on grounds of age, but excludes pensioners, who can be dismissed at 65 without redundancy payments, or at the employer's mandatory retirement age if it is above 65.

Government lawyers insisted the exception was a matter for national rules, and the situation of retirement age workers should not be governed by the EU Directive.

One of Age Concern's member organisations, Heyday, took the case to the High Court, which sent it to the EU court for a ruling.

In today's "opinion", the Advocate-General, Jan Marzak, agreed with Age Concern that UK rules on mandatory retirement are covered by the EU Directive.

But he made clear that discrimination on grounds of age could be justified in certain circumstances.

Allowing employers to force employees to retire aged 65 or over "can in principle be justified if that rule is objectively and reasonably justified in the context of national law by a legitimate aim relating to employment policy and the labour market, and it is not apparent that the means put in place to achieve that aim of public interest are inappropriate and unnecessary for the purpose".

Today's "opinion" is not legally binding, but is followed by the EU judges in about 80% of cases. The final verdict is due in about six months.

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