Timothy Kirkhope, who leads the Conservatives in the European Parliament, has put out a press release in light of the failure of Heyday, a membership organisation of Age Concern. Heyday had brought a case to the European Court of Justice to challenge the legality of the compulsory retirement age.
Employers are allowed to fire staff – without redundancy pay – when they reach 65 or the mandatory retirement age set by the company. Heyday unsuccessfully challenged on the grounds that the law contravened EU equal treatment laws.
"This is a sad setback for age equality in Britain. It is wrong to force people who want to make a contribution to the economy to hang up their boots, particularly during a recession.
Too many companies undervalue the expertise and experience older people can bring to the table. We need a sea change in our attitude to older people in the workplace.
The problem of age discrimination is a cultural one that would not be changed by the European Court, but a ruling in favour of fairer employment practices would have been a good place to start.
Fortunately the High Court has pre-eminence in this matter. It must exercise its own authority by rejecting the ECJ’s opinion and supporting an end to compulsory retirement age in the UK.”
This is a tough one. On the one hand, I agree with Mr Kirkhope that we treat older people very shabbily. I can think of some very sprightly pensioners – and Ronald Reagan was older than 65 when he became one of America‘s greatest ever Presidents. On the other hand, I don’t like supra-national law, especially in the area of employment, and I do think businesses need some legal scope to be able to say that someone is no longer capable of doing their job. Back to the first hand again though, should they not have that scope regardless of someone’s age – even if age is sometimes a factor?