Employers in the dark over age law proposals

Sep 03 2003 by Brian Amble Print This Article

UK managers are still unclear about the government's plans to introduce new age discrimination laws, according to a new survey by recruitment specialists Kelly Services and the Employers Forum on Age (EFA).

The Ageism in business survey 2003 set out to investigate levels of awareness of age discrimination and the 2006 age legislation among managers of different ages, working for companies varying in size, industry type and location. The survey is part of a project by Kelly Services and the EFA to increase awareness of age discrimination issues among Kelly Services clients and the recruitment industry.

The majority of those questioned were in favour of age discrimination legislation in principle, but only a small minority (nine per cent) were fully aware of the government's plans for introducing age legislation in 2006, while less than a fifth (18 per cent) knew about the main changes proposed. Two thirds said they need more information on the proposed new laws and over half of those questioned think that too little is still being done to encourage employers to hire older staff.

When questioned about their knowledge of the proposed changes to the law, a majority of managers appeared unsure about their possible impact. More than three quarters (78 per cent) believe that the legislation will not change the recruitment practices in their organisation, despite the fact that recruitment is one of the most obvious areas set to be affected.

Managers are looking to the government to take practical action to inform employers about the legislation and encourage businesses to recruit older workers. Two thirds (64 per cent) want to see more training courses made available to increase employability among older workers. Four in 10 (38 per cent) want a high-profile government advertising campaign to promote the advantages of recruiting older workers - perhaps indicating that previous campaigns may not have had enough impact.

But the survey does suggest that positive messages about the business benefits of recruiting older workers are being understood. Three quarters (76 per cent) of managers questioned believe older workers bring experience and loyalty to a job and 67 per cent think they are more reliable than younger workers.

But age discrimination can swing both ways, and the survey reveals negative perceptions of younger workers. Younger people were perceived by some managers as being more likely to leave after being trained and are potentially less reliable. Nearly one third of respondents said they would feel more comfortable working for an older rather than a younger manager.

Chris Kelly, Managing Director of Kelly Services, says: "Despite what people say, in practice many older workers find it difficult to secure an interview let alone a job. However, it is good news to note that employers seem to be waking up to the benefits of older workers. At the same time it is worrying that young people may now be facing the same sort of age discrimination that older workers have always faced."

Sam Mercer, Director of the Employers Forum on Age, says: "The results of the survey show that although positive messages are getting through, ageist stereotyping is still taking place throughout UK business. Employers need to face up to the challenge and ensure they recruit according to ability not age."

The government will outlaw age discrimination in employment by 2006. The second phase of the consultation is currently underway and will come to a close this autumn.