ECJ creates difficulties for UK government
Thousands of older workers who do not want to be forced out of work at the age of 65 have been given hope by a judgment made by the European Court of Justice today, in the latest stage of a landmark legal challenge brought by Age Concern against the Government.
European judges confirmed this morning that the UK government has to overcome a high hurdle to justify forced retirement and so will struggle to show that its national default retirement age of 65 satisfies European Union age discrimination rules when the case returns to the British courts.
Age Concern and Help the Aged have called on the UK Government to scrap the default retirement age immediately, by-passing the need to return the case to the High Court which would cause further delay to the right to work past 65 being clarified in law.
The two charities have condemned ministers for sending mixed messages to older workers by encouraging people to work beyond the age of 65 yet keeping legislation that prevents many from doing so.
Only six months ago mandatory retirement ages were scrapped for civil servants but the Government failed to change the law to benefit all UK employees. Ministers face accusations of double standards from the 1.3 million people who are already working past state pension age, many of whom cannot afford to retire.
The European Court of Justice in effect rejected the Advocate General's opinion suggestion that ageism was less significant than other forms of discrimination and sends a message that ageism has no place in a fair society.
Gordon Lishman, Director General of Age Concern, said: "We still have a very strong chance of winning in the British Courts. The ECJ has said the Government must prove to a high standard why forced retirement ages are needed, and those reasons must be based on social or labour market needs, not the interests of employers.
"The Government's position is increasingly contradictory. Only last week ministers criticised the 'grey ceiling' which stops people working beyond the age of 65. Yet, they continue to consign millions of willing and able older workers to the scrapheap by maintaining the very barrier which prevents them from extending their working lives. It is time for ministers to find the courage of their convictions and abolish the default retirement age without further delay."
Paul Cann, Director of Policy and External Relations for Help the Aged, said: "Today's decision sends a signal that mandatory retirement ages should become a thing of the past. Challenging financial circumstances mean it is even more important for older workers to be able to choose to work for longer if they want to. Ageism in all its forms must be eradicated from our society once and for all."
Andrew Lockley, Head of Public Law at Irwin Mitchell, who are acting for Age Concern said: "This is a very important decision for anyone who is approaching the current retirement age, many of whom still feel that they have a lot to offer and want to continue working. The law needed clarification, as neither employers nor older employees knew where they stood. The ECJ has made it clear that an employer's circumstances cannot be used to justify discrimination on the grounds of age.
"The decision of the ECJ will guide the High Court when it comes to consider whether the UK Government can justify the default retirement age of 65. There are also a number of claims of age discrimination by workers who have been retired against their will, which are on hold until the ECJ has given judgment."