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Last Updated: Monday, 25 September 2006, 14:42 GMT 15:42 UK
Stage set for age employment laws
Winston Churchill in 1945
Winston Churchill became Prime Minister again at the age of 77
One of the most important changes in UK employment law for many years starts on 1 October.

The new rules will outlaw age discrimination in employment and vocational training.

They will be just as important as the laws outlawing discrimination on grounds of race, sex, disability, religion and sexual orientation.

But so far remarkably little official publicity has been given to the impending changes.

Wide ranging changes

The new laws - the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 - are coming in as a result of the government's obligation to adopt a European directive on employment.

I think most employers are aware of the new laws but very few are clued up
Tom Bray, employment lawyer

The rules will have an impact on recruitment, training, promotion, redundancy, retirement, pay and pension provision.

Out will go phrases in adverts seeking "enthusiastic young staff" or "mature individuals".

And recruitment schemes aimed at graduates will have to be changed while sifting job applications by age must also end.

"I think most employers are aware of the new laws but very few are clued up or geared up - most seem to have a 'suck it and see' approach," says Tom Bray, an employment lawyer with the Cardiff legal firm Berry Smith.

Any employer which has a standard retirement age of 60 will now have to get to grips with a very important fact.

From now on their staff will have a right to stay on at work until 65, even if the company's pension scheme still keeps a formal payout age of 60.

For millions of workers who stay fit and healthy as they approach 60, there will be the tantalising possibility that they may be able to work on and take their pension simultaneously.

So in their final years they could earn more than at any other stage of their careers.

Exceptions

The new laws do provide some get-out clauses for employers but they are fairly tough.

Cafe Royal, Edinburgh
Bar staff will still need to be at least 18 years old

An employer may be able to keep on with an apparently discriminatory policy if they can come up with what is called an "objective justification".

That in itself is not actually defined by the new laws, but employers will have to show that they are pursuing a legitimate business aim and that what they are doing is a proportionate way of achieving that aim.

The other main justification is that there is a genuine occupational requirement.

Good examples are bar staff, who legally must be aged at least 18 to serve alcohol, and pilots, who in many parts of Europe are not allowed to keep on flying once they are over 60.

The only categories of staff who are exempt from the laws are those in the armed forces and unpaid volunteers.

Employment tribunals

From now on, anyone who feels they have suffered because of their age will be able to take a case to an employment tribunal, where the penalty will be an unlimited fine.

Some employers fear they will face many more tribunal cases.

A recent survey by the Employers Forum on Ageing found that 40% of employers in the UK think that once the new laws come in, age discrimination will be a feature of more than half of tribunal cases.

Despite the attention given to older people being forced out of the workforce, the laws will apply just as much to young people.

Dumping the youngest workers into the lowest paid jobs while they are allegedly "learning" could be challenged.

Pensions

Not all of the government's plans are being implemented in one go.

Pete Townshend of the Who performing in Hyde Park 2005
Pete Townshend of the Who - from the 60s to his sixties

It recently decided to postpone until the start of December the changes that will be required by pension funds.

There will now be a further period of consultation before new guidance is published and the pension element of the new laws comes into effect.

And there could be some unintended consequences for other benefits offered by employers.

For instance, those who offer benefits like health or life insurance up to a current retirement age of 60 may find they are now charged much more by insurance firms to cover their staff to 65.

"All employers who offer any protection benefits for their staff will have to make sure the schemes are written to 65 or they could end up denying benefits to older workers," says Peter Coussens, of financial advisers Kynaston-Carnoustie.


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