'I've seen some people forced into retirement just fade away'
Not everybody wants to spend their golden years relaxing or playing golf. Today's generation of oldies want something more - the right to keep working
What age will you be when you retire? The answer to that question used to be simple - 65. But as life expectancy continues to increase, so do our prospects of working well past the traditional retirement age. And change is afoot at a surprisingly rapid pace.
Two years ago, there were just under 52,000 people over the age of 65 in the workforce in Ireland. This year that figure has jumped by a staggering 25pc to 65,000. And according to Justin Moran, head of advocacy and communications at Age Action, the trend looks set to continue over the coming years.
"There's a gap in income when somebody is forced into retirement," he says. "Many still have a mortgage to pay, a car loan and maybe kids at college."
Since January last year, the eligibility age for the State pension was increased to 66. This is due to rise to 67 in 2021 and 68 in 2028. While those forced to retire at 60 or 65 wait to draw that pension, they can either claim Jobseeker's Allowance or try to find another job. Mmm, finding a job at 65... how hard could that be?
Put it this way: when the Baby Boomers meet the Echo Boomers across an interview desk, the results are not pretty.
"There's a latent ageism in business today," says Justin. "Research conducted by Age Action in 2007 showed a reluctance among younger managers to hire older people, and there's no evidence to show that's changed.
"Part of it is to do with managers in their 30s or 40s feeling uncomfortable having somebody in their 60s or 70s reporting to them. Some might wonder how long an older person might stay in the job. Will they be leaving in a couple of years to retire? And some younger managers can feel threatened by somebody older who's really experienced and knowledgeable.
"The debate around older people in this country focuses on pensions and healthcare, about what older people receive from the State, not what they contribute. What about all those who want to keep contributing to the Exchequer, pay their taxes and be involved in their communities?
"We need to stop writing off people who have invaluable skills and experience. It makes no economic sense," he adds.
B&Q, one of a small number of companies with a proactive older worker employment policy, found that since staffing one store entirely with employees aged over 50 for a trial period, profits went up by 18pc, staff turnover was six times lower and absenteeism 39pc lower than elsewhere. That led to the company adopting an age neutral policy that continues to this day.
As he approaches his 74th birthday next month, Ted Dyer from Drogheda, Co Louth, works in B&Q in Swords, Co Dublin, and has no plans to retire any time soon.
"As far as I'm concerned, age is a number, not a problem. My job suits me down to the ground and I'll decide when I've had enough. It's my life and my choice.
"I begin my day at 5am with yoga and Tai Chi. At 6.30 I go for a swim in the local pool before driving half an hour to work in Swords.
"I'm one of a number of ex-tradesmen who make up the customer adviser team. We share our knowledge and expertise so that any DIY enthusiast can give their job the professional touch. I also meet and greet people as they come through the door and guide them to where they want to be.
"Whatever you want to do - lay a floor, build a cabinet, whatever - we have plumbers, carpenters, painters, decorators and electricians on the staff, so I can point you in the direction of whoever you need to speak to.
"I look forward to coming to work, and every day is a learning curve because you never know what people are going to ask you. One couple wanted advice on how to measure a ceiling. The husband had fallen off a ladder in his attempt to do so. I urged him not to try that again: to measure a ceiling, simply measure the floor. It's a lot less hazardous!"
Ted is a qualified electrician but was made redundant at the age of 63. "I wasn't ready to hang up my tool belt," he says. "I work 17 hours a week and I'm paid for 20, because I get overtime for Sundays; but money is not the primary aim. It gives me huge job satisfaction to help people solve their problems, and that's good for self-esteem.
"I've seen people who are forced into retirement take to drink or fade away. It's not that I'm against drink. I'm a Scotsman for goodness' sake! Of course I like a wee dram, but only if I'm out with company. I don't drink at home, unless we have guests, and I don't binge drink.
"I'm hoping to break the family record and live to 100 and until then, I'll work as long as I want. Compulsory retirement is like the marriage bar that used to force women out of their jobs.
"Ageism is the same thing: it's one person or group of people making a decision for somebody else. They have no right to do that. It's just another form of discrimination.
"Thankfully, ageism doesn't exist here at B&Q. Nobody comes up and says, 'You're 66. Do you want to retire?' It's your decision how long you want to stay. My job means a lot to me. It keeps me active. If you don't use it, you lose it and I don't want to be a couch potato," says Ted.
At 83, Mary Bradshow "absolutely loves" her job working five mornings a week at the Business in the Community/Community Foundation for Ireland offices in central Dublin. She's worked since she was 14 and plans to keep doing so as long as she's able.
"I started 14 years ago, shortly after my husband John died from a stroke. I missed him terribly then and I still miss him every day, because we were always together. Every morning I take the five-to-seven bus from Cabra and get to work about 7.15.
"I look after the kitchen and make sure everything is in order for the staff when they arrive around 8.30."
For Mary, the fact that she enjoys the company of her colleagues so much is a key reason she continues to love her job. "I have the kettle boiled so they can start their day with a nice cup of tea or coffee. They're a lovely crowd and that's what makes it special for me. The few bob is handy, but I mainly do it for the company.
"Having a job gets me out and about and I feel I'm contributing to society.
"At half past nine, I go to Mass in the Pro Cathedral. I pray for my family, friends, neighbours, the people I work with - everybody, really - then I pick up a few bits and pieces in Tesco and I'm home by noon.
"I like to be on the go. I have two sons and six grandchildren and at the weekends I go to concerts and plays with my friends May and Ethel. I'm also looking forward to the office Christmas party. After the meal I'll be the first one up on the floor. I hope I don't make a show of myself!"
While there is no fixed retirement age in Ireland, a company can specify one in its employees' contracts of employment. This is traditionally set at 65, the same age of statutory retirement for some public servants.
However, that might be about to change. Labour TD Anne Ferris has tabled a Bill to abolish the mandatory retirement age. Fully supported by the Justice, Defence and Equality Committee, her Employment Equality (Abolition of Mandatory Retirement Age) Bill would prohibit employers imposing compulsory retirement ages on their employees.
"I've had loads of letters from older people who want to stay in the workforce, some for financial reasons - like those parents who took out a second mortgage to support sons or daughters - and others who just love their job and don't want to stop," she says.
"Most of the correspondence has come from HSE workers who have a particular anomaly to deal with: not only are they compelled to retire at 65, they can't draw their pension until age 66.
"In the interim, they're forced to claim Jobseeker's Allowance! So all they want is to work that extra year to meet their pension age.
"Many people are happy to retire at 65 or even earlier, but I think if you're able and competent, you should be allowed to continue working if you so choose.
"When the old age pension was first introduced people weren't expected to live beyond 65, but we're all living longer now and our legislation needs to adapt to the 21st century.
"Mandatory retirement was dropped almost 50 years ago in the USA and in lots of other countries since then - and the sky didn't fall in.
"Just as it took Ireland longer than most countries to abolish the marriage bar, it's well past time we caught up and put an end to this discrimination based on age."