The purpose of this Bill is to ensure that people cannot be discriminated against in the workplace on grounds of age.
Over the past 40 years, the Oireachtas has introduced many progressive legislative measures to ensure that people in the workplace are not discriminated against on grounds of gender, race or sexual orientation. We all welcomed those measures. But, for some reason we have turned a blind eye to a far more prevalent form of discrimination in the workplace, namely, discrimination based on age – or to describe it more accurately what is referred to as “old age”.
Before I inform you why I believe this Bill is a good idea and what it is about let me assure you as to what it is not about.
This is not a Bill that seeks to enable people in old age, who no longer have the capacity to carry out certain employment functions, to remain carrying out those functions.
Accordingly, it is not a Bill that seeks to ensure that 80 year old pilots with fading eyesight can remain in their jobs. Like all such important jobs, people should only be permitted to carry out those jobs if they have the physical and mental capacity to do so.
What this Bill seeks to achieve is fairness and equality in the workplace!
Why should able bodied people who have full mental capacity be required to face compulsory retirement at 65 years of age? If a proposal was advanced, prohibiting any person from being a member of the Houses of the Oireachtas if they were over 65 years of age it would be rejected by both Houses.
It would not simply be rejected on grounds of fairness but also because some of the most effective politicians are people of maturity. Age is an advantage, not simply in politics but in employment generally.
I hope you will forgive me for doing so, but I want to cite Senator Fergal Quinn as proof of the point I wish to make. I believe that people should be given choice and flexibility in respect of when they should retire.
Many people will no doubt continue to retire and wish to retire at 65 years of age. However, there are very many people in both the public and private sector who reached the age of 65, but who are desperately anxious to stay on in work.
You know and I know the heartbreak and trauma which people face when they have to go over the cliff edge of compulsorily retirement at age 65.
I believe the law should facilitate those people by prohibiting discrimination based on age.
I believe this is not only a fair proposal but it is a proposal that makes economic sense.
When you look at public sector expenditure at present, it is apparent that there is a huge amount of money being spent on paying pensions of retired public sector workers. If some public sector workers choose to stay on after 65 years there would be no extra cost to the exchequer for their pensions in these additional working years.
I know that one of the arguments against this proposal may be that it will prevent younger people from gaining employment. I reject that argument and I believe it is unfounded.
Firstly, the right to stay in your job after 65 years of age is not simply a right for people who reach 65 years of age but is a right for all younger workers who will reach 65 years of age in the future and be faced with compulsory retirement. Second it is not anargument to promote employment for young people that certain other workers should be forced out of the employment sector.
That is a similar argument that was made in the 1930s when the marriage ban for women was introduced.
Women when they got married at that stage were told that you can’t have your jobs back because you are taking jobs from men.
It was a nonsense argument then and it is nonsense now
People who are self-employed or who are politicians or, indeed, who are members of the judiciary do not face the mandatory 65 year retirement age.
Why should people working in the public sector be forced to go at 65 years of age if they want to stay on and if they have the physical and mental capacity to stay on?
Why should employers in the private sector be entitled to dictate to an employee that they must stop employment when they reach a certain age?
It is a fact that people are living longer and their health is improving.
People in their late 60s and early 70s are now well able to continue working. I believe the compulsory retirement of people at 65 is also having a negative effect on the status of older people in Irish society. People over 65 should be allowed to continue working if they wish to do so.
They should not be put out to pasture once they reach a certain age and told that legallytheir employers are entitled to say “your service is no longer required”. That is not fair and it is not progressive. It is a “brain drain” of experience, judgement and expertise from our public and private organisations.
I would ask members of this House to support this legislation which I believe will constitute a significant step to ensuring full equality in the work place for all our citizens.