The proposal, introduced in an effort to comply with a European Union (EU) directive, seeks to give workers more flexibility in deciding when to retire, although they would still be able to claim a state pension at the age of 65. “Age discrimination is the last bastion of lawful unfair discrimination in the workplace, and it will be outlawed,” Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt said, according to an Associated Press report.
Further, the Department of Trade and Industry said the proposals are designed to end the widespread practice of age discrimination in Britain, including help-wanted ads that seek young applicants.
Should the legislation pass, it would bring Britain into compliance with the mandatory EU Employment Directive, which prohibits age discrimination in employment and vocational training. The proposed UK legislation is expected to come into effect by October 2006, in keeping with the EU deadline.
However, not everyone is on board with the idea, especially the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). John Cridland, deputy director general of the CBI, said age discrimination was difficult to define and that there could be an explosion of cases taken to employment tribunals unless employers were given clear guidelines.
Further, while union leaders generally welcomed an end to age discrimination, some fear the legislation was the latest smoke screen to divert attention away from the United Kingdom’s current pension crisis and instead encourage workers to delay retirement by working longer.
“Working longer is not the answer. There has to be compulsion on employers to protect pensions,” Derek Simpson, joint general secretary of the Amicus union said, according to the AP.