Magazine article Public Finance

On Yer Bike?

Magazine article Public Finance

On Yer Bike?

Article excerpt

It takes stamina to cycle from Land's End to John O'Groats, and to follow that up with a cycling expedition to Cuba. So there's no question that 60-something Nigel Speight who has done both in the past 18 months, is in better physical shape than many people half his age. Nor is there any doubt about the former consultant paediatricians professional competence he received an award for clinical excellence two years ago. Yet last year, he was forced to retire from the teaching hospital he had worked in for 25 years.

'I asked to stay on and they said "no",' he recalls. 'They said they were trying to reduce consultant numbers. But they then accepted that the work still needed to be done and appointed a long-term locum to do it'

Speight who believed he was still giving good value for money, says he was told he would not be an acceptable candidate for the locum post. He has now brought two age discrimination claims against County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust one for ending his employment when he turned 65 and the other for denying him the opportunity to apply to work as a locum.

Speight s case, along with 250 others in England and Wales and ten in Scotland, has been put on hold pending the outcome of a legal challenge to the UK's age discrimination laws. This has been taken to the European Court of Justice by Heyday, the membership arm of the charity Age Concern. If it succeeds, employers will be able to force people to retire only if they are clearly no longer up to the job. With growing numbers of people enjoying good health and wanting to work into their late 60s and 70s, there could also be a flood of compensation claims from those sacked because of their age.

The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 banned age discrimination in employment but following intensive lobbying from the CBI and some other employers' organisations, the government agreed to introduce a national 'default retirement age' of 65. Employees have the right to ask to stay on beyond this age, and employers are obliged to consider their requests - but can turn them down. They can also refuse to hire people who are within six months of their sixty-fifth birthday.

'The 1.3 million people in the UK working beyond retirement age do so only at the grace of their employers. Your right to work ends at 65,' says Heyday director Ailsa Ogilvie.

Heyday argued at a European Court of Justice hearing last month that the default retirement age contravenes the European Union directive on which the age regulations are based. The court is expected to publish its judgment before the end of the year, when the case will be referred back to the High Court in London.

As it is then likely to go to appeal, we are in for a long period of uncertainty and stagnation, according to Rachel Krys, director of the Employers' Forum on Age, a network of public and private sector employers that campaigns against age discrimination.

'Employers are saying that they are not going to make any big changes until they have a very clear idea of what the law is going to say ultimately says Krys, who estimates that half of central government departments and most local government organisations use the default retirement age.

That doesn't necessarily mean they get rid of every employee who turns 65. A spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, which is responsible for the age regulations, says the retirement age is a tool that employers can use to plan their workforce, but that many choose not to use it Those that do, including Berr itself, approve a significant number' of requests from staff wanting to work beyond 65.

There is often a good business case for doing so, according to the vice-president elect of the Public Sector People Managers' Association, Dean Shoesmith, whose day job is executive director of human resources for the London Borough of Sutton, as well as interim head of HR for neighbouring Merton. …

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