I joined a colleague at a pre-arranged late lunch meeting. His lunch partner was a senior official from a major Financial Investment Firm
Our meeting was related so I was invited to take drinks and join in the conversation
We were talking about the new Age Discrimination Legislation, due before December 2006. Knowing who I was, he was anxious to get my view. I expressed our view that if done properly the law would stop ageism in the workforce dead in its tracks, and though the due process of government was slow and lumbering at times, the machinery was getting us there on time.
The Investment Firm guy seemed quite knowledgeable on the subject. He had done his research and realised that his final report to his Board was to contain some tough messages.
We concurred that by 2006 (let’s embarrass the government and say December), legislation will be in place to ban all forms of age discrimination in employment. The battle for words will have been compromised but most of what we wanted, we’d get!
We considered why the EU had condescended to give the UK an extra 2-3 years to comply. Our guest had not realised that this time was for the benefit of his Board and the CBI, IOD and of course the DTI and all the other doubters to come to terms with the shape of the law – and more importantly to have in place by then their own answers – fully worked out! Old wrongs put right etc.!
By January 1st 2007, the General Public would have the full protection of the law vis-à-vis Age Discrimination in Employment. I was trying to imbue some urgency into his report by pointing out that mathematically he would be having to give his Board less than 20 months to react to a law, which will be the biggest piece of commercial legislation to ‘hit’ them in a hundred years.
Age Discrimination is very different from all other ‘discriminations’ because it affects ALL of us, employer and employee, at least once in our lives. It is a ‘discrimination’ that hides in all the avenues of our working lives from recruitment to retirement.
The effects of having miss-used ‘age’ in the workforce is that we are currently experiencing the embarrassment of 2.8 million older workers ‘stuck solid’ in long-term unemployment. If this is not sociologically bad enough, it is costing the Exchequer – that’s you and I (in taxes and lost earnings) - £34 billion every year. Like it or lump it, none of us - our guest’s Investment Firm included - can continue to ignore it.
Though hard to take, we must assume that ALL responsible employers are now, at the very least, in the process of completing their plans. The consequences of not preparing properly might be a veritable flood of high cost discrimination claims dated 01.01.2007.
I suggested to my friend’s guest that his report-time was of very short essence and surely a great deal of preparation had already been done. I was astounded to hear that they were only just now starting to address the problem in theory. Twenty months of pre-preparation and a further two years to iron out all the bugs is no time at all in business terms. Certainly from a Personnel Director’s point of view this is ‘short-term’ going mad!
Shaking out what constitutes age discrimination in your workforce will take some doing, all the more reason for urgency. As we were talking to a Gentleman from the Banking Industry, it was reasonable to use his Industry as a reference point.
As a part of the Financial Services Industry, he was aware of their very poor performance in the ‘age discrimination’ sweepstakes. Recruits over 38 years of age are unusual. The FSI has as few as 8 per cent of its employees over the age of 45.
In contrast, the National Workforce is very evenly split to almost ‘parity’. Half the workforce is over 45, half is under that age. To achieve a workforce that does not show ‘bias’ the FSI needs to ‘swing’ its workforce by a massive 18.5 per cent - a tall order for sure – but remember the government has already negotiated an extra 24 months leeway to help them to make changes! I was still trying to express the urgency of his task.
We parted company agreeably enough, but had I done enough to make the urgency point? He was not my client; I could take it no further, in the order of good manners.
At this stage of preparation most companies, certainly all the larger ones, should have their plans for taking on board ‘Age Discrimination Legislation’, well under way. However, in the real world, like our gentleman from the Investment Firm, I don’t think employers are taking the ‘threat’ of change that this new law will bring, seriously enough!
Although certainly not the desired way forward, I can see some hefty 6 figure claims urging their own pace of change. Roll on 2007.