Leading article: A fixed retirement age should be consigned to the past

Moves to boost workplace flexibility should start with older employees

Share
Related Topics

There is a host of objections that can, and doubtless will, be raised to the proposals that the Equality and Human Rights Commission publishes today. Its central pleas are for the default retirement age to be abolished and for the right to request flexible working to be extended to all. Those employed in heavy manual or dangerous jobs, and the trade unions that represent them, will argue that a default retirement age is not only fair, but an absolute necessity. They will treat the issue as one of social justice, citing the health risks to which they are exposed and the relatively shorter life expectancy they enjoy.

Employers, too, will fear extra costs. With many older workers saying they want to work beyond the state pensionable age, companies could face a choice between keeping on unproductive workers into old age or funding expensive lawsuits to justify their dismissal. Some will also argue, no doubt, that an extension of flexible working would cost more, because overall more people would be employed to do the same amount of work.

It could also be argued that more opportunities for older workers might entail a shrinking of chances for the young, especially at a time of relatively high unemployment. Not only are older workers already trained, but some retailers already seek out older workers, saying that their basic skills are higher and they relate better to customers. Encouraging older workers to stay on might allow employers to become lazy about recruitment and training.

While we have some sympathy for these arguments, especially the last, we believe the Equality Commission has got it right. In Britain, older people are a lamentably under-used resource. Very many say that, health permitting, they would like to work past the state pensionable age. What stops them is not just the law that makes it easy for employers to dispense with their services on the relevant birthday, but the prejudice among recruiters that makes it so difficult for anyone over 50 to get a job.

The key to effecting such change can be found in the Commission's call for all employees to have the right to request flexible working. Note that it says "the right to request", rather than the absolute right, as there will be some jobs that are simply not suited to the degree of flexibility an employee might like – but not nearly as many as employers probably believe.

The recommendations could, in fact, receive a more favourable hearing than they would have done even a couple of years ago. During the recession, there is evidence that companies and staff have cooperated to minimise the damage, with staff accepting less pay for shorter hours and companies becoming more amenable to requests for sabbaticals, flexible hours and the like. More companies also seem to be realising that greater flexibility could be a price worth paying, or indeed a benefit that more than pays for itself, in order to retain highly-trained, especially female, staff.

There are many reasons for supporting a new attitude to work that includes career-long flexibility, in recognition of the fact that people's aims and requirements change. As a start, though, flexibility could transform the lives of older workers, easing their transition into full retirement, while ensuring that their skills and experience are not wasted. New rules could suit future governments, too, as the scandalous inadequacy of many private sector pensions becomes evident. With the interests of older people, employers and government so demonstrably aligned, the Commission's proposals deserve to be given a fair wind.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Hang on – that’s not how it’s supposed to be written

Guy Keleny
Rafael Nadal is down and out, beaten by Dustin Brown at Wimbledon – but an era is not thereby ended  

Sad as it is, Rafael Nadal's decline does not mark the end of tennis's golden era

Tom Peck
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test