The proposed change in UK employment law to tackle age discrimination has its origins in an European Council directive which goes back to November 2000:
On 29 November 2000, the European Council unanimously adopted a new Directive requiring equal treatment in employment and occupation in the areas of sexual orientation, religion,disability and age. This will extend significantly the scope of anti-discrimination legislation in the UK.
The UK Government, along with all other Member States, is now required to introduce legislationin the relevant areas. Whilst the UK laws concerning disability discrimination would alreadyappear to comply with the provisions of the Directive, new legislation will be required in the otherareas and the timetable for introduction is as follows:
a) legislation outlawing discrimination on grounds of religion by 31 December 2003;
b) on grounds of age by 31 December 2006.
Now maybe I should make some things clear. I am not against legislation which makes discrimination illegal. But I can see a difference between discrimination on grounds of religion or sexual orientation, which should have no real bearing on our capacity for work, and on grounds of age, were clearly our capacities may alter. Now it is quite coherent to try to argue the case for this law on humanitarian, and social responsibility grounds, my problem is in understanding where this relates to the structural reforms and the labour market flexibilisation on which our future is so evidently supposed to depend. How is it really proposed to establish definitions and criteria? How will we decide between a decision based on age related impairment (I mean we do slow down, and our short-term memories do deteriorate), and one based on prejudice? I mean we can establish quotas of old people, like we establish quotas of disabled people. The firm could be seen to be socially responsible. But isn't that just what everyone is criticising the old Japanese system for, for offering 'lifelong' employment and not being adapted to change. Somewhere along the line our economies need to produce more 'jobs', to create employment. But if we leave this to the market mechanisms firms will have a youth (30-45 age group) bias. Increasing the participation rates of the 55 - 75 age group is very laudible, but do we have any serious suggestions on the table about how we make ourselves more productive when we reach this age. If not unit costs will inev¡tably rise (there must be a parrallel here with the Malthusian argument about extending agriculture across progressively less productive land) and our economies will become relatively less efficient: precisely the result we want to avoid. This is why I favour an immigration driven approach to the problem.