Sunday 18 August 2019

'It is mad putting them on the heap at 65' - meet the workers beating ageism

Eye on the future: Betty Kelly (71), who works as a receptionist at an opticians. Photo: MAXWELLS DUBLIN
Eye on the future: Betty Kelly (71), who works as a receptionist at an opticians. Photo: MAXWELLS DUBLIN

Anne-Marie Walsh

Mum-of-four Betty Kelly (71) works up to two days a week, partly because she loves her job - but partly because she won't have an occupational pension to fall back on when she retires.

The optician's receptionist, who lives in Swords in Dublin, is among the 22pc of over-60s in employment who are now the focus of a new report.

Niall Murphy retrained as a chef after 25 years in the motor industry. Photo: MAXWELLS DUBLIN
Niall Murphy retrained as a chef after 25 years in the motor industry. Photo: MAXWELLS DUBLIN

She was at the launch of this piece of research by the Solas training agency yesterday that shows recent predictions about Ireland's ageing population are coming to pass.

The number of over-50s surged by 330,000 over the last decade and the number of those in their 50s at work jumped by almost 5pc.

But the Government will be hoping there are many more like Ms Kelly willing to work longer, to ease the financial pressure on the State.

Its boldest move to tackle the problem so far has been hiking the qualifying age for the State pension. This means most of those who are working now won't be able to draw it down until they are 68. Ms Kelly is critical of this as many employees are forced to exit the workplace earlier because of mandatory retirement clauses in their contracts.

"If they want to go on, be they men or women, if they feel young at heart and agile enough they should be able to go on," she said.

"It's mad putting them out on the heap at 65. There's many the man and woman, and particularly men, that come out at 66 or 67 and they could be dead a year later. I think it's linked.

"They haven't got the job, they haven't got the routine and they're at home with the wife. They need something - maybe two days a week."

She described the Government decision to push up the State pension age for people who "worked their butts off" over the years as "appalling".

Although she believes it was "stupid" not to pay into a private pension, she is glad she has the State one to fall back on while her husband has one from a previous airport job.

Following years working part time promoting and restocking chocolate bars in shops for Rowntree Mackintosh, she took time out to rear her children before doing a Fás 'return to work course' at 49.

She has not encountered ageism in the workplace and believes her years of experience have been an advantage at the opticians where she started working at 50.

"I've never been made feel different," she said. "Maybe it's my type of work. I work in a beautiful reception area.

"I find particularly the older patients we would have, they just love the older person because I'm very experienced in what I do and I have the patience, and I have the patience with the children as well, who can be little divas."

However, Niall Murphy (55), of Sutton, said he felt he had a few brushes with ageism after making a dramatic career change during the recession. He moved out of the motor industry to become a pastry chef. Now a culinary instructor, he has published a book on his work as executive chef at the Donnybrook Fair Cookery School that was shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards. It wasn't all plain sailing and he remembers interviews and trials that seemed to go well, but there was no call back.

He says professional kitchens are very much a young person's game with bizarre hours. But he tells his students at the Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board there's more to the industry than standing at a fire with a pot in your hand, including training and product development.

"One of the things that fascinated me when I travelled on business was the Americans are big into this 'hey man, there are seven careers in you'.

"I do think there are people who think 'I am too old, I can't do this'. It's not quite 'my life is over', but they feel they are being left behind. They're watching the young guns coming up behind them. They see this huge chasm opening up between them and themselves.

"If I can encourage someone to take a breather... there are huge options out there. There is a huge shortage of chefs. This is what the industry needs to tap into. There are a lot of people out there that would be excellent in these roles."

Irish Independent

Editors Choice

Also in Life