Many people wish to work beyond 65, Age Concern says
A challenge to the right of employers to make people retire at 65 has been rejected by a European court adviser.
An Advocate-general, a senior legal adviser to the European Court of Justice, backed current UK rules - although the view is not binding.
Age Concern is challenging UK laws, which since 2006 have allowed employers to compel workers to retire at 65.
Some 260 people in Britain have cases at employment tribunals which depend on the European court's ultimate decision.
Many believe they have been unfairly treated and are worse off because they had to retire at 65.
Campaigners, who believe that setting an age limit is discriminatory, described the latest decision as a setback but stressed that the case would run for some time.
But employers' groups have welcomed the latest guidance. Around a third of UK employers have a mandatory retirement age, but this is not necessarily set at 65.
The Advocate-general's view could influence the judges who are expected to give their ruling in the case just before Christmas, but it is not binding.
If they eventually find in the campaigners' favour, the case could then return for a final hearing in a British court.
Consultant paediatrician Nigel Speight on being forced out of his job at 65
The employers' organisation the CBI has argued that a normal retirement age of 65 is an essential management tool.
It has added that employees can ask to work beyond that age.
Employers have a duty to consider these requests, and the CBI has said that this system has proved to be a success.
Katja Hall, the CBI's director of employment, said the Advocate-general's opinion was a "sensible and fair" approach to the issue.
"Employees already have the right to request postponement of retirement. Our surveys show that just over 30% of employees requested postponed retirement in the last year and over 80% of these requests were granted.
"This right ensures that employers and employees sit down and find solutions that work for both sides.
The law ought to be in favour of good management, recognising value and not price
Post-65 worker Phil Hingley
"Firms offer a growing range of options but they must retain the right to say no and retire people with dignity at the end of their career with the company."
Losing this right could make employers less inclined to take on older workers, she said.
But Gordon Lishman, director general of Age Concern, said: "Millions of older workers in the EU will be fuming that the Advocate-general thinks ageism counts for less than other forms of discrimination."
The case is being brought by Heyday - part of Age Concern. It was prompted by a survey of 60,000 people, with 80% claiming the rules were unfair, Heyday said.
Heyday director Ailsa Ogilvie said that the current rules were "costing good workers their jobs".
"Denying people work because of their date of birth is grossly unfair, and in these tough times we expect more people will need to carry on working into 'retirement' in order to make ends meet," she said.
"More than a million people are already working past state pension age and they are the fastest growing group in the workforce."
Phil Hingley, 66, has 47 years experience in the railway industry and has continued working part-time. His wife, a university lecturer, has also continued to work.
"The law ought to be in favour of good management, recognising value and not price," he said.
He believed that in many cases line managers wanted employees with experience to continue, whereas corporate human resources departments looked more at the costs involved in keeping on higher paid staff.
Lawyers have said that the government would still have to win a key battle to justify the inclusion of a default retirement age in the age discrimination legislation, based on its employment policies.
The government says that, with the population living longer, its long-term aim was to move away from a compulsory retirement age anyway.
"Many employers already realise the value of recruiting, training and retaining older staff and introducing more flexible working practices," said a spokesman for the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.
"We are monitoring the default retirement age and are committed to reviewing its effectiveness in 2011. If evidence shows it is no longer necessary then we will remove it."
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