11.01.10

Harman Stirs the Pot over the Default Retirement Age

Harriet Harman, the Government’s Equalities Minister has said the time has come to scrap the default retirement age (DRA).  Speaking to the Daily Mail, she said the promised review which had originally been planned for 2011 was being fast-tracked but that workers over 65 should also be given the legal right to ask to work part-time or from home, or make a range of other variations to their hours.

The changes in the law would cover staff ho have already signed contracts that say they will retire at 65, but it will not alter the point at which the state pension can be claimed.  

While employers would be able to decline the requests, they would have to give one of eight valid reasons for doing so.

Harman said: “It is a difficult thing for employers, it is challenging to business, but at the end of the day practice has to change as the facts are changing.

“The retirement age is arbitrary, it bears no relation to people’s ability. Think of people running their own business – they don’t shut up shop suddenly when they reach the age of 65.

“People are remaining active and healthy well into their older years. But at the moment there is no legal backing for you if you want to stay at work, so what we are proposing is a massive public policy change.

“We do want people, if they want to, to be able to stay working for longer, and flexible working is a way that enables them to do that.

“They could say they have decided they want to work three days a week and it would then be down to the employer to demonstrate why the business couldn’t cope with that.”

Any change in the law would also be expected to include provision for employers to remove older staff who are incapable, through ill health or frailty, of maintaining performance levels.

However, it appears that the Minister was speaking for herself, not on behalf of the Government, and the ‘fast-track’ review had already announced back in the summer and is only just getting underway.  But if the decision is made to scrap the DRA, and a Labour Government is returned at the General Election, then the change would most likely come into effect in 2011.

Note: As far as the Equality Bill is concerned, there is no Government decision to abolish the DRA through the Bill.