Ageism endemic in British workplaces

2007

One year after the introduction of legislation intended to outlaw age discrimination in British workplaces, ageism appears to be as deep-rooted as ever.

Since new laws came into force on 1st October 2006, more than 2,000 claims for age discrimination have been lodged with the Employment Tribunal Service, a new report by the Employers Forum on Age (EFA) claims.

While public awareness of the legislation has almost doubled – almost nine out of ten people know it is illegal to discriminate on the grounds of age at work, compared to just half at the same time last year – the report suggests that many employers are still not abiding by the rules.

Indeed a poll by EFA suggests that some 16 million Britons – almost six out of 10 of the workforce - claim to have witnessed ageist behaviour in the workplace during the last twelve months alone.

Sam Mercer, EFA Chief Executive, said that while she was pleased that awareness of age discrimination had increased over the past twelve months, employers were still falling well short of the required standards of practice.

"On average 200 age discrimination claims are lodged every month with the Employment Tribunal Service, no employer can afford to bury their head in the sand and hope this issue will just go away," she said.

Among the type of discrimination reported in the EFA poll, nearly a third of workers said they are aware of an older person getting paid more than a younger person for doing the same job with a similar proportion saying that people are managed differently depending on their age.

Over one in eight have had a younger person in the workplace overlooked for promotion in favour of an older person, irrespective of experience, while more than a quarter said that people of a similar age to the rest of the team are recruited to ensure a good 'fit'.

The EFA research also found that there is a long way to go in ensuring that ageism is properly understood, with less than half of those surveyed correctly identifying that it is an issue which can affect anyone of any age and a third believing that it only affects older people.

By far the biggest area of complaint, however, is around the vexed issue of retirement. The survey found that while nine out of 10 Britons think they should have the right to work for as long as they like if they are able to do the job, one in five employers still insist on imposing a default retirement age of 65.

"This disparity between employees' expectations and the flexibility employers are prepared to offer will inevitably lead to tension," Sam Mercer said.

"It is time for employers to think seriously about following in the footsteps of some leading EFA members and removing mandatory retirement ages."

And she added: "Age discrimination laws have been in effect for one year, and good progress has been made in some areas. However, ageist attitudes are still ingrained and changing that culture is a much bigger task, but one which cannot be avoided."

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