memorandum by Ms Gafarova, rapporteur
This report originated in a motion for a resolution
on “Addressing age discrimination on the labour market”.Note
Age discrimination is characterised by differential treatment
and denial of rights or opportunities unjustified on any other grounds.
This form of discrimination has become a sociological concept in
its own right known as ageism.Note
Like racism and sexism, ageism
concerns prejudices on the part of one group against other groups.
3 In the context of economic crisis, access to the labour market
is difficult for everyone. The population groups which suffer discrimination
are the hardest hit. Furthermore, the most disturbing manifestations
of contemporary ageism include discrimination in the employment
field (30-year-olds deemed “too young” and 40-year-olds dismissed
as “too old”!), in access to further training (which is more difficult
from 40 onwards) or in access to certain types of assistance or
Even though many types of ageism also affect young people,
this report will not address the issue of discrimination against
young people on the labour market, since the Parliamentary Assembly
has already dealt with this subject in its report on “Reversing
the sharp decline in youth employment”.Note
Assembly considers that youth unemployment and under-employment
are mainly due to the mismatch between youth qualifications and
labour market needs, rapid changes in labour market conditions,
structural changes in the economy and the erosion of public expenditure
on integrated strategies to promote employment.
5 My report therefore concentrates on the issue of age discrimination
against elderly people on the labour market. As part of the preparation
of this report, the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination
held a hearing with Ms Anne SonnetMs Sonnet is a Principal
Analyst for Youth and Older Workers Policies in the Employment Analysis
and Policy Division, Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social
Affairs, OECD. from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation
and Development (OECD), in Strasbourg on 25 April 2013.
changes and the labour market
6 Our society is multi-generational, and demographic
trends show that it is increasingly so. At the present time, increasing
life expectancy means that people of retirement age and above account
for a large proportion of the population, and in fact our societies
now comprise three, four or even five generations.
“By 2050, the world population of those over the age of 60
is projected to triple, reaching 2 billion people. Europe has the
highest proportion of older people and this will remain so for decades
– more than one third of Europe’s population is expected to be over
60 by 2050. This will require major policy and a shift in attitudes towards
this connection, Resolution
“Demographic Trends in Europe: turning challenges into
valuable detailed information on demographic change in Europe.
Moreover, according to various authors,Note
the emergence of the industrial society
brought about major changes which lowered the respected status and
role of elderly persons. Much greater importance came to be attached
to technological skills than to experience, which increasingly eroded
older people’s traditional status in society. Compulsory retirement
was a further product of the industrial revolution. Elderly workers
were taken out of the production chain on grounds of age rather
than skills. This had major consequences in terms of the social
representation of “old age” in the 20th century, because elderly
people came to be considered as less competent and productive.
9 The ageing of the population is a challenge which must be
tackled by all European regions. The hitherto marginal problem of
what to do with elderly workers is becoming more pressing, and in
particular it has taken on a different perspective. The question
now is how to preserve elderly workers’ competences and know-how within
businesses: keeping workers aged 55 or over in employment and young
retirees returning to work are now topical issues.
by 2050 the number of persons above the age of 60 is expected to
triple worldwide, totalling 2 000 million individuals;
Europe is the only continent which will have a negative population
growth rate over the next fifty years;
– in Europe,
by the middle of this century, the European Union should have 48 million
fewer persons aged between 15 and 64 and 58 million more persons
aged over 65.Note Over the next thirty or
so years, the working population is set to decline at a rate of
1 to 1.5 million persons per year. Concurrently, the number of persons
aged 60 and over should increase at a rate of 2 million per year.Note
on the labour market
10 In its assessment of the implementation of the 2011
recommendations in matters of combating age discrimination, the
OECD notes that although there is no objective way of measuring
age discrimination, studies show that in 2010, in the 27 European
Union countries, between 2% and 9% of all workers aged 50 and over
report instances of age discrimination at their workplace.
11 The data diverge from country to country: in Denmark and Luxembourg,
discrimination has decreased over the last decade, while in Greece
and Sweden it has intensified. Discrimination against workers over
the age of 50 may take a variety of forms, for example a lower level
of replies to their job applications or fewer training opportunities.
3.2 Difference between
distinctions based on age and discrimination
12 There are situations in which distinctions based
on age are justified because they have a legitimate aim and the
means of achieving this aim are appropriate and necessary. This
applies to such positive measures as facilitating access to specific
services or benefits. Also in this labour market context, there
may be cases where distinctions based on age are justified (for
example recruiting a young actor to play the part of a young person).
13 These cases are fairly rare, however. In France, on the other
hand, statistics from the Discrimination Monitoring Centre show
that age is the main factor of discrimination in employment. It
is more important than ethnic origin, sex or disability in applicants
for a job which does not stipulate age criteria, and this also applies to
many other countries.
14 Ageism in respect of employment is reflected in discriminatory
language, attitudes and practices based on age. These conscious
or unconscious phenomena are guided by the various stereotypes attaching
The prejudices pertaining to ageing population groups are
- physical difficulties:
elderly workers are considered as being slow, requiring rest periods
and being physically incapable of carrying out their work;
- mental and cognitive difficulties, suggesting that elderly
workers deal poorly with emergency situations, are unsure of themselves,
are prone to mistakes, find it difficult to concentrate, take a
long time dealing with new operations, are mentally incapable of
keeping up with the pace of work, have limited skills and lack creativity
or capacity for innovation;
- elderly workers have more accidents and occupational illnesses
and recover more slowly. Elderly workers are also associated with
extra costs, particularly in terms of insurance;
- elderly workers are too old for training or are reluctant
to engage in it, have a higher rate of absenteeism, lack ambition
and are simply waiting for retirement age;
- they have difficulties in relations with young people,
are resistant to change, etc.
16 As is the case with any type of discrimination based on prejudices,
the danger lies in generalisation.
17 In fact, no sociological study has ever identified a link
between work performance and age. There are also many other criteria
to be considered. There is no systematic, universally applicable
crucial age at which capacities begin to decline: a person’s capacities
at the end of his/her career vary from one individual to another
and are closely linked to working conditions over the whole past
career. In order to retain their work performance, elderly workers
use various strategies based on their occupational experience.
18 Discrimination can occur at any stage in an employment
relationship. However, given the competition on the labour market,
older persons suffer greater discrimination in recruitment than
19 In fact, age is the personal (differentiating) criterion for
recruitment least often acknowledged by employers, after the applicant’s
external appearance (dress sense, mode of speech, general physical appearance).
20 The argument used by employers to justify age distinction
in the workplace is economic cost-effectiveness. Worker cost-effectiveness
has a central place in the present-day labour market, placing older workers
in a separate category. When they seek employment, they are in competition
with both younger workers and persons on early retirement, or even
pensioners seeking supplementary employment (see below).
in access to further training
21 Older workers also face direct discrimination in
access to training. The rapid rate of change in the contemporary
economy means that workers must now have advanced skills and must
build on them at the same rate in order to maintain their performance.
One means of meeting this requirement is worker training. However,
because of expanding knowledge and technology, elderly workers usually
have fewer advanced technology qualifications than younger workers.
In fact, they are often more exposed to exclusion from the labour
market and are laid off as soon as any redundancy emerges, as employers
often consider it is not worth training someone who will soon retire.
Yet research shows that training workers, whatever their age, increases productivity.
22 Furthermore, it must be acknowledged that at the end of their
careers some workers may be more reluctant to engage in further
training or adapt to new technology on the pretext of nearing retirement.
Such elderly workers are themselves promoting prejudices and incorporating
into their conduct the notion that they are too old to learn.
23 I am convinced that if they wish to receive training, older
workers must be allowed to engage in lifelong learning for professional
reasons, for their personal development and satisfaction and also
to enable them to continue to participate productively in community
life. This is the price for ensuring that the ageing of the population
is an asset rather than a social burden.
3.5 Redundancies and
The face of retirement has greatly changed over the
last few decades, and it will continue to change with the impressive
baby-boomer generation arriving at retirement age. In this connection,
I would refer to the report on “Decent pensions for all”Note
and Resolution 1882 (2012)
25 In order to cut wage bills and reduce pressure on employment
in a specific economic context, governments and businesses have
reacted by introducing programmes to speed up the removal of ageing employees
from the working population. However, the incentives for early retirement
and golden parachutes are having mass consequences. These practices
underestimate the negative effects of the overall reduction of the
26 Such policies bear the imprint of the prejudices against elderly
people in general and the ageing working population. The fact is
that, today, the ageing of the population is often seen as a social
27 Even though early retirement is often accompanied by financial
compensation, it is sometimes in effect a case of unemployment in
a different guise. We often hear that an elderly worker should reap
the fruit of his hard work and enjoy a well-deserved retirement.
Early retirement might thus seem innocuous, or indeed well-intentioned,
but it can also turn out to be imposed vis-à-vis persons who wish
or need to continue working.
28 In fact, early retirement is less and less a matter of choice
and is increasingly being dictated by pressures. Early retirement
also enables businesses to bring new blood into their workforce
by laying off their ageing employees, who are seen as unproductive.
Many employers would like to shed elderly workers, especially trade
unionists, because they require higher wages than younger and non-union
employees, who are not necessarily in a position to claim their
29 Older workers often experience long periods of unemployment
after being made redundant. Workers over the age of 45 remain unemployed
longer than their younger colleagues. Those with fewer qualifications who
have worked their whole lives in a sector which is currently in
decline or exposed to heavy international competition are at particular
risk of finding themselves in insecure or unskilled employment,
or even permanent unemployment.
30 When such workers do find new employment, the wages are often
lower than their previous earnings. Moreover, workers are more liable
to feel discouraged after a redundancy and to abandon efforts to
find a new job. Losing a job at any age can lead to problems such
as poverty, loss of self-esteem, a feeling of insecurity, boredom
and isolation, which can affect physical and mental health.
31 Workers aged 55 and over may also be in competition with retirees
who wish to supplement their retirement income, but who can accept
low wages since they are already in receipt of a pension. In fact,
many people who have taken early retirement realise that they cannot
survive on the allowances they receive without sliding into poverty.
The current severe recession also means that retirees returning
to work in order to top up inadequate retirement pensions often
have their pensions docked or are more heavily taxed on their additional activity.
These forms of discrimination are exacerbated in a labour market
32 In our ageing Europe, therefore, with its ever-increasing
life expectancy, our aim must be to improve the balance between
the duration of working life and that of retirement. In order to
achieve this, the European Commission White Paper on retirement
issued in February 2012 advocates encouraging the populations of member
States to remain longer in employment, and therefore recommends
raising the legal retirement age. Nevertheless, the solutions and
the age limits cannot be the same for all States because of their
differing demographic situations.
3.6 Multiple types
of discrimination against older women
33 In Europe, life expectancy is 76 for men and 82 for
women. This difference is a discriminatory factor which must be
taken into account in addressing the issue of population ageing.
That said, it would appear that the gap between female and male
life expectancy is tending to decrease, particularly because of
increasingly similar lifestyles. Moreover, the gap between life
expectancy in good health of the male and female populations is
smaller than that for life expectancy in absolute terms. The gap
between male and female life expectancy in good health is now less
than one year.
The dual discrimination often suffered by older women in our
societies stems from the fact that women are the subject of both
age and gender discrimination. In fact:
- older women are harder hit by poverty because they have
built up smaller retirement pensions than men. The lower level of
pensions is broadly linked to wage levels, which are also generally
lower than those enjoyed by men;
- the different care functions traditionally carried out
by women throughout their working lives, such as maternity leave,
childcare and the assistance provided to elderly persons, place
women in situations of work discontinuity, which has an impact on
their retirement pensions;
- consequently, women often become more dependent than men
on public and private services, as well as public health services,
whether as care providers or recipients. This places them in a difficult
position if such services are unavailable or deficient;
- older migrant women suffer many different types of discrimination,
including discrimination based on their age, gender and country
4 International instruments
on age discrimination
The reference framework at international level is
still International Labour Organization (ILO) Recommendation No. 162
which sets out detailed recommendations
to States on the development of national policies and legislation.
Although Recommendation No. 162 does not define “older workers”
as such, it recommends that “employment problems of older workers
should be dealt with in the context of an overall and well balanced
strategy for full employment and, at the level of the undertaking,
of an overall and well balanced social policy, due attention being
given to all population groups, thereby ensuring that employment
problems are not shifted from one group to another”.
36 At European Union level, reference to age discrimination on
the labour market is to be found in Articles 10 and 19 of the Treaty
on the Functioning of the European Union. This provision empowers
the European Union to combat discrimination based on six criteria,
including age. In turn, Council Directive 2000/78/EC establishes
a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation,
and includes age as a potential ground for discrimination. The directive
prohibits direct and indirect discrimination (including harassment
and any instructions to discriminate) and sets up national legal
remedies in case of discrimination. With a view to ensuring balance
for employers, it introduces the concept of differences of treatment
“objectively and reasonably justified by a legitimate aim, including
legitimate employment policy, labour market and vocational training
Even though it would be impossible to define a single legislative
framework suited to all situations, some parameters can be established.NoteNote
In order to combat effectively discrimination
against older workers on the labour market, national legislation
can, in particular, make provision for:
- the employability of older workers: restrictions on, or
the prohibition of, access by older workers to the labour market
must be clearly defined as discriminatory and prohibited;
- employment protection: older workers must be protected
against dismissal on the ground of their age, and their working
conditions and career progression and advancement must not be affected
by their age;
- measures to prevent age discrimination;
- definition of the responsibilities of all actors concerned
in the workplace.
5 Promoting positive
action to protect groups subject to discrimination
38 Article 7 of Directive 2000/78/EC provides that States
may maintain specific measures to prevent or compensate for disadvantages,
which means that the proportionate use of age distinctions to compensate
for a disadvantage may be regarded as objectively justified as a
form of positive discrimination. Promoting the vocational integration
and protection of vulnerable groups is accordingly a legitimate
European Union member States have started to transpose the
directive into national legislation.NoteNote
Some States have established specific
employment measures to integrate particular groups into the working population.
40 States may also make provision for special protection for
older workers in the case of dismissals. In Slovenia, for instance,
Article 100 of the Law on Employment Rights sets out the criteria
for dismissal decisions, with age being one of the factors which
employers must take into account. This provision is regarded as
a good example of positive action insofar as older workers are less
likely to find new employment. Higher redundancy payments are also
made to older workers in the Netherlands, as well as in the United
Kingdom and several other European Union member States.
41 In terms of positive action, however, the mixed results of
such measures must also be borne in mind. For instance, the introduction
of special protection for certain categories may lead some employers
to try and get workers to retire by treating them badly. Measures
to change employers’ and employees’ attitudes must therefore be
considered at the same time as the legislative measures needed to
protect vulnerable groups.
6 Mentoring programmes
42 In addition to the legislative measures needed to
combat age discrimination, dialogue and partnership between all
the parties concerned must be promoted if stereotypes are to be
combated and attitudes are to be changed fundamentally.
43 In this respect, mentoring programmes are a very worthwhile
practice for combating age discrimination. Mentoring involves a
voluntary, long-term relationship between an experienced “mentor”
and a promising younger “mentee” who is able to benefit from the
mentor’s experience, know-how and network of contacts.
Provided that they are drawn up and implemented methodically,
mentoring programmes are career and staff management tools which
benefit both the mentors and the mentees. In particular, mentors:
- gain in enthusiasm and motivation
on account of their role as experts;
- acquire a better understanding of the obstacles encountered
lower down in their organisations;
- develop coaching, advisory, listening and role-model skills;
- develop and implement more personal styles of leadership;
- capitalise on their know-how and share their knowledge;
- increase generational awareness and intergenerational
For their part, mentees:
support from the start of their careers;
- gain quicker access to their companies’ expertise and
- learn to put their ideas and strategies into practice
in a safe environment;
- receive support with taking initiatives and seeking out
- improve their career prospects and expand their in-house
- also increase generational awareness and intergenerational
46 Regardless of its duration or whether it is carried out in
groups or individually, mentoring offers the great advantage of
capitalising on the skills and potential of both younger and older
employees, thereby making intergenerational differences an asset
for companies and their staff.
47 I firmly believe that this type of programme must be encouraged
so as to change attitudes and combat the stereotypes on which age
discrimination is based, while also promoting intergenerational
48 Ageing populations present a challenge which must
be faced by all Council of Europe member States. The disparities
between different countries necessitate measures tailored to each
situation, but in any case all countries must address the issue
of older workers’ potential.
49 Older workers will inevitably have to remain in work longer
on account of demographic shifts and the general economic context:
this makes it necessary to change attitudes and support people at
the beginning of, during and also at the end of their careers.
50 Ageism in the workplace is currently reflected in discriminatory
language, attitudes and practices based on age. These conscious
or unconscious phenomena are guided by the various stereotypes attaching
to older workers. There is an urgent need to recognise this problem
and confront it by establishing effective legal mechanisms to combat
discrimination and positive measures to facilitate access to the
labour market and training for older workers.
51 Dialogue and partnership are central to an effective policy
here, which must involve co-ordination between all players, including
older workers and the general public. This means taking measures
to encourage employers not to discriminate against older workers
and also measures to support older workers directly in terms of
access to the labour market, to remove the obstacles to such access
and ensuring their professional development.
52 It is just as important and necessary to seek to change attitudes
so as to eliminate stereotypes concerning older people and build
a realistic and positive image of older workers.