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25th May 2019

EU court accepts forced retirement due to age

  • There are "millions of willing and able" workers above the age of 65, Age Concern says (Photo: EUobserver)

The European Court of Justice on Thursday (5 March) said that forcing people to retire due to their age could be justified if it is part of broader social policy goals, but left it to the national courts to decide whether this is indeed the case.

The European Court issued its opinion after considering a case first brought before the British High Court by Age Concern England, a charity working for the well-being of older people, which argued that a British law allowing an employer to sack somebody because they reached the legal age of retirement – 65 years – was discriminatory.

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"National legislation may provide, in a general manner, that this kind of difference of treatment on grounds of age is justified if it is a proportionate means to achieve a legitimate social policy objective related to employment policy, the labour market or vocational training," the ECJ ruled.

It said that "by their public interest nature," certain social policy objectives are "legitimate" and "distinguishable from purely individual reasons particular to the employer's situation, such as cost reduction or improving competitiveness."

The ECJ left it to the UK courts, however, to decide whether the UK legislation "reflects such a legitimate aim and ... whether the means chosen were appropriate and necessary to achieve it."

In a press release following the ECJ's opinion, Age Concern said it was given "hope" by the ruling and would continue fighting against forced retirement.

"We still have a very strong chance of winning in the British courts. The ECJ has said the government must prove to a high standard why forced retirement ages are needed‚ and those reasons must be based on social or labour market needs‚ not the interests of employers," said Gordon Lishman, director-general of Age Concern.

For his part, Paul Cann, director of policy for Help the Aged, another UK NGO supporting the elderly, said that mandatory retirement ages are even more unfair in the current context of the economic and financial crisis.

"Challenging financial circumstances mean it is even more important for older workers to be able to choose to work for longer if they want to. Ageism in all its forms must be eradicated from our society once and for all," said Mr Cann.

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