18.07.09

UK Retirement Policy Back in the Dock

The legal challenge to the UK’s default retirement age policy has arrived back before the High Court in London. 

Earlier this year, the European Court of Justice (ECJ), to whom the case had been referred, ruled that the UK’s default retirement age which was introduced in the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 is lawful, as long as its aim is legitimate.  However the ECJ ruled that ministers must meet a “high standard of proof” in claiming that employers should be allowed to force staff to stop working on the grounds of their age alone. 

The UK Government now has to justify the retirement age in court.  They must point to some social policy, such as their goals for the labour market or training for younger workers, in defending the policy.

On the first day of the High Court hearing, Robin Allen QC, representing Age Concern and Help the Aged, told Mr Justice Blake that allowing employers to get rid of staff just because they were 65, under the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006, was unlawful. He added:  “We say that the true reason for this legislation is that the Government was told employers were not ready to address the culture change and would need another five years to do so.

“Employers fear the effects of not being permitted to discriminate and they need time to come to terms with that. “They have a stereotype about old people and are not willing to abandon that stereotype because the regulations are in the form they are. We say that is unlawful and a proper understanding of the EC law will show that to be the case.”

However, a spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills insisted: “The Government is confident that we have properly implemented EU law in respect of retirement age, and employers’ ability to objectively justify other age-based practices. The European Court has already established that the default retirement age is compatible with EU law provided it can be objectively justified. We believe that the evidence supports our objective justification of the default retirement age.”

If Age Concern and Help the Aged win the case against the Government, it could pave the way for hundreds of older workers to win compensation from their employers. More than 300 employment tribunal appeals remain on hold until the issue is resolved.

The case continues.

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