Monday 19 March 2018

People aged late 40s already victims of workforce discrimination, Citizens’ Assembly hears

Justin Moran of Age Action Picture: Robbie Reynolds
Justin Moran of Age Action Picture: Robbie Reynolds

Laura Lynott

People in their late 40s are already victims of discrimination in the workforce, the Citizens’ Assembly has heard - as calls were made to allow workers to continue careers into old age.

Justin Moran, head of advocacy at Age Action, said the majority of people receiving Job Seekers’ Allowance now are those been forced to retire from their jobs but who aren’t yet of state pension age.

“You can go on Job Seekers benefit until you get the state pension but you’re losing €50 euro a week,” Mr Moran said.

“And in 2021 when the pension age rises to 67, it will get even more difficult.  That 65-year-old (currently) doesn’t have to be on the dole, they can get a job with Facebook or Google but it doesn’t work like that.

“Age discrimination kicks in in the late 40s and there are more 65-year-olds on Jobseeker's’ than any age in this country because of the mandatory retirement clause.”

A representative from the Assembly said their group had been “shocked” that discrimination began so young and called for any potential action against this.

The charity campaigner pointed to the example of one of Age Action’s member’s who was a dental nurse in the HSE who had to retire before she wanted to

He stated that if this type of experienced health worker hadn’t been forced out of employment as soon as she hit 65, the HSE might not have had to launch a campaign to seek new health workers.

“We pushed these people out -  people who want to make a contribution, people who are depressed when they turn 65 and their work it over,” he said.

“If anyone wants to tell President Michael D Higgins his work finished at 65, it’s not how it’s done.

“We are telling people you have nothing more to give... The legislation is flawed where retirement age is linked to pension.

“We are letting employers tell you at age of 65, you’ve nothing more to give.

“People didn’t tell coworkers they were finishing on their birthday, as they didn’t know and there’s a financial and social aspect to it.  It’s a decision made by some HR fella that it’s time to go home.”

Mr Moran also directed that the Homemakers’ Scheme - which makes it easier to access a state contributory pension if a person has looked after a child under 12 or an ill or disabled - be extended pre 1994 to help women in particular, who’d spent years “working in the home.”

He stated this was “work that might not receive a payslip but nevertheless it is work.”

Read more: Controversial pension top-up scheme plugged at Citizens' Assembly

“The people we work with are carers, farmer, some do aid work, some run marathons...Growing old in Ireland shouldn’t mean growing afraid but for a lot of people we represent, it does,” he added.

The pensioners’ advocate said many older people are facing poverty and “go without” in order to pay property tax and other bills that didn’t take account that their incomes had dropped in retirement age.

“Our members worry about the cold weather, bin charges being introduced, there’s a survivor's’ pension...but not much more.”

The campaigner stated that in 2012 the Government made pension cuts that it knew would “hit women harder” than men but “they did it anyway.”

“We’d like you to think about gender issues, can we backdate the homemakers’ scheme?”

Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner for the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, said it was a key human right in “maintaining dignity” to allow older people access to social welfare.

She said the case of Michael and Katherine Devereux had illustrated the need to assure older people are afforded such human rights.

Mr and Mrs Devereux were initially separated under the Fair Deal Scheme - but were united after an extensive campaign in the media led by their family.

“This was an act of inhumanity as the Taoiseach described,” Ms Logan told the Assembly.

“It’s possible to consider individual cases to provide a more humane approach.

“The primary decision is about older people - it’s not about satisfying carers.

“I have personal experience where my mum was dying at home.  Nine of us were killing ourselves to do what we could.

“But the best advocate was my mother’s GP, who had a clear focus what was in her interests.

“It’s not about us - it’s about what is in the interest of older people in Ireland.”

Mary Murphy, from the IHREC said some people were experiencing “double discrimination” in the workforce and when reaching pension age and it was vital this was prevented.

Ms Murphy said that 80pc of the €2.4bn state pension pot “goes to top earners and there’s a male bias of that too. 

“You have to have the full information if we are taking the human rights and equality model to pensioners.”

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