Friday, 9 October 2015
Employment Equality (Abolition of Mandatory Retirement Age) Bill 2014: Second Stage [Private Members]
On a Friday when there is Private Members' time, two Bills are discussed, with a maximum of two hours of debate for each. If the first Bill only lasts one hour, we immediately move on. I am sorry, but whoever gave the Deputy that information was wrong.
Yes. These Friday sittings are very good.
The purpose of this Bill is to amend the Employment Equality Act 1998 to abolish mandatory retirement ages for people who are able and willing to continue in the role for which they were employed. The Bill provides exceptions for security-related areas such as An Garda Síochána. This is not a new idea. The legislation before the House today is based on similar legislation elsewhere, including in the US, where compulsory retirement ages have been outlawed for quite some time, and in the UK, where such age discrimination was banned in 2011.
Section 1 of the Bill provides a mechanism whereby an employer can provide a financial incentive to an employee to retire voluntarily, but the overall emphasis in this legislation is on the voluntary nature of a decision to retire. The Bill aims to change the position that arises in many workplaces across the country, and particularly in State roles, whereby people attaining a certain fixed age - be it 60 or 65 - are compelled to retire, often against their will. This Bill will also address the growing anomaly whereby people retiring at 65 may have to wait a year or longer to access State pensions. The idea of signing on for the jobseeker's allowance after working for nearly half a century is abhorrent to many employees and is, frankly, an unacceptable request by the State.
To most reasonable people, it sounds like basic common sense to allow a highly skilled 65-year-old to continue in employment. I would not like to be the person who had to ask President Michael D. Higgins, the Queen of England or the Pope to cease their working lives because it has suddenly been noticed that they are well beyond 65. Over the years, many experienced politicians have been elected to the Houses of the Oireachtas and other parliaments worldwide at ages well over 65.
The newly elected leader of the Labour Party in Britain is starting his new job at the age of 66. Last month, TheDaily Telegraph published an article entitled, "It is Jeremy Corbyn's age that makes him seem fresh". It offered the considered opinion that it is hard for an ageing society to respect younger leaders which, according to the newspaper, "all seem to come from the same shiny factory". We are an ageing society but we are ageing well, and I say that modestly.
Thanks to improved nutrition and advances in medical science, we are living longer. How often do we hear that 50 is the new 40 or 60 is the new 50? Today's celebrity role models are often women and men aged over 65 but as youthful in outlook as someone decades younger. The generations are blurring. In many respects, there is no longer a generation gap or not a discernible one anyway. The recent marriage equality referendum demonstrated a shared open-mindedness across several generations, but it is disappointing that this wider movement towards a more age respectful society does not seem to have embedded itself in the culture of employment, particularly in the State sector.
When I launched the Bill in April 2014, I quickly discovered the popularity of removing upper age limits from employment contracts. I was inundated with e-mails and letters from members of the public praising the Bill but also sharing with me their own stories of age discrimination. The number of people who have suffered both emotionally and financially through being forced out of their jobs prematurely is shocking. In the past week alone, I have dealt with two cases involving HSE employees approaching the age of 65. It will come as no surprise to anybody familiar with the public sector that these workers are highly trained, having benefited from many years of continual postgraduate learning connected to their roles, I presume at great public expense. One of them occupies a key administrative role while the other is a trained medical professional. Both are youthful and energetic 64 year olds. These two women know more about their roles than any younger person who will replace them. The overall cost of replacing such key staff is outweighed by the hidden cost associated with plugging the skills and gap in the vacuum left by them, but people should try telling this to the HSE.
I was expecting to welcome Dr. Albert Mariani, an eminent consultant neurologist from the US to the public Gallery. He is visiting Ireland with his wife, Dr. Aurora Mariani. The debate would seem like something from the Middle Ages to them if they were here given under no circumstances would fit and able health professionals be forced into retirement against their will in the US. Mandatory retirement was outlawed there in 1967. With respect, that was more than a decade before the Minister of State with responsibility for equality was born. What is becoming apparent is that while politicians are predominantly in favour of removing this form of age discrimination from the workplace, there are often layers of resistance within larger organisations, possibly because young employees are frustrated by their lack of career progression. However, two wrongs do not make a right. It is possible in a properly managed organisation to have progressive career paths for staff of all ages. We do not have to be fearful of older employees. In a public sector that has lost a disproportionately high percentage of experienced employees due to voluntary early retirement, we cannot afford to push out the remaining experienced employees against their will. It is not a big leap to make a connection between the diminishing numbers of people aged over 50 in the public sector and the increasing number of costly errors identified by the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Committee of Public Accounts. We need more young people to help run our public services, but we also need older, experienced people to mentor them. Otherwise there will be repeated reinventions of the wheel and mistakes that never become lessons.
Let us imagine the outrage in the Chamber if an employer advertised a job with a higher salary for men than for women and, furthermore, if that employer set as a job condition that the woman would be required to give up her post in the event of marriage. Such employment conditions seem unthinkable now but they were commonplace until the 1970s. Until then, it was perfectly legal to issue an employment contract that discriminated against gender. For much of that time, it was unusual not to discriminate on the ground of gender. Women were worth less in the workplace and married women were worth nothing to State employers. The ban on married women in the Civil Service was introduced in 1932 as part of an international trend to protect male employment. In 1934, the marriage bar rule was extended to primary schoolteachers, a profession that had included high numbers of married women for approximately 100 years prior to the ban. As if this was not enough discrimination against women in the workplace, the Conditions of Employment Act 1936 introduced by the Minister for Industry and Commerce, Seán Lemass, gave the State strong powers to limit the number of women working in industry. One could not make it up. Sadly, even though most other countries had dropped their marriage bar by the 1950s, Ireland cruised past the gender debates of the 1960s and into the 1970s before this Parliament finally removed the ban on women working in the public service. It was around that time that the legislative bar on women serving on juries was also removed.
The simple fact is Ireland's accession to the European Community brought with it obligations to treat women equally. The first equality Bill following EU membership was the Anti-Discrimination (Pay) Act 1974, which took two years to pass because employers strongly resisted the idea of women being paid the same as men for the same role. Finally, more than 40 years after the introduction of the marriage bar, it was abolished by legislation passed by the House in 1977, but not without years of debate about the effect on male workers of granting equality rights to females. History professor, Diarmaid Ferriter, one of the many experts who has commented over the years on the destructive effect on our society and economy of the marriage bar, has illustrated the point well by comparing the 5% of married women in employment in 1966 with the 50% employed in 2006. There are still barriers to women re-entering the workplace following time out to care for their families. We do not need to compound that by imposing limits on the duration of the working life of an employee, but, sadly, we do not seem to be learning from past mistakes. Perhaps, if a few more people from the marriage bar days were still working in the HSE and other State bodies, there might be a clearer understanding of the value to public service delivery of retaining experienced personnel.
I was shocked yesterday, given this Bill has been in the Oireachtas system for more than a year, to receive an unfavourable critique of it from the Department of Justice and Equality. Following my dealings with the HSE in recent times on the same subject, I should not have been surprised. I know by now that within every large organisational structure there are people waiting to progress through the mandatory retirement of colleagues. I expect that scenario also applies to a handful of people at senior level in the Department, but there are enough of them to cause significant resistance and ensure significant time barriers to the progression of the legislation. I am being told now more than 18 months after it was initiated that the measures may be legally flawed or even unconstitutional and that they might provide a barrier to the mobile younger people in the workforce. Independent analysis of the Department in the context of issues relating to An Garda Síochána identified cracks in the organisational structure. However, the path to improving any employment structure should not include the step of age cleansing. To remove any doubt about the legality of what is being processed, the Bill was drafted with the benefit of legal advice from one of Ireland's leading lawyers. The question of unconstitutionality does not arise and I am somewhat amused that the Government is supporting the legislation against the advice of departmental officials who claim elements of it may be unconstitutional.
The last time I was in a situation like this, I lost the whip because my Government colleagues felt compelled not to pass Second Stage of legislation that might be unconstitutional. I suppose I can take comfort from the fact that the obstacles to the Bill will not come from politicians, except in one respect. Should the Taoiseach call an early election and dissolve the Dáil in the coming weeks, this legislation will not see the light of day. As with all much-awaited legislation not yet enacted, an early election will banish to the dustbin of history this proposal to give employment rights to over-65s. Tens of thousands of adoptees would also be disappointed by an early election as their long-awaited tracing and contact legislation would not be enacted during the lifetime of the Government.
It might be easier for all of us to get re-elected before the winter sets in but we really do not have that entitlement. The citizens elected us to do a job and we should finish that job. I want to see this Bill enacted during the remaining life of this Government. It is quite clear we may not get the opportunity again for some time to rectify the serious wrong visited on people approaching retirement. It seems unlikely from yesterday's correspondence that at least some of the officials in the Department would be rushing to draft replacement legislation of this type for a future Minister.
I thank the many well-wishers who have contacted me in support of this Bill, including Labour Party colleagues. History tells us that fears about equality are never justified and I hope I will get a favourable response from the Minister of State.
The Government will not oppose the Employment Equality (Abolition of Mandatory Retirement Age) Bill 2014 sponsored by Deputy Anne Ferris. I congratulate her on the work she has done on this issue and I look forward to discussion on the detail of the Deputy’s proposals on Committee Stage.
Age discrimination should not be countenanced. I am the Minister of State with responsibility for equality, and equality issues are dear to my heart and central to my reason for being in politics. However, there are serious policy issues in this proposal which need careful consideration. A simple change to equality legislation may not be the vehicle in which to capture all the nuances that need to be taken into account and all the legitimate interests that need to be balanced when we think about work and retirement issues. The Bill is presented as an amendment to equality legislation that would have the effect of abolishing mandatory retirement ages, save in specified security related employment. Those security related exemptions in respect of An Garda Síochána, the Prison Service, fire services and so on are welcome and necessary, and this reflects the position in existing equality legislation.
This would be a radical step and the issues that arise in considering such a radical measure as is proposed in the Bill are not fundamentally equality issues but have wider ramifications. The proposal in the Bill would involve setting aside the retirement provisions of most existing employment contracts on a unilateral basis and would have serious implications for public sector employment, pensions policy and labour market policy generally. It would appear from our reading of the Bill that the setting aside of existing employment contract provisions would operate on the basis that the employee still had a choice to retire at the contractual date whereas the employer would not have a choice. This arises due to the interplay between compulsory and voluntary retirement in the precise text of the proposed amendments. That seems to be very problematic from a legal point of view. State intervention in private contracts to abolish on a unilateral basis the retirement arrangements entered into by the two parties would be of doubtful legality and would need careful consideration following comprehensive legal advice. A one-sided abolition raises even more serious doubts as to its fairness and constitutionality. We will need to think carefully about the objective we are trying to achieve and whether we can find other approaches that avoid legal pitfalls.
It is important to note that EU equality law provides expressly for compulsory retirement ages. When the EU Framework Employment Directive 2000/78/EC, which outlaws age discrimination in employment, was transposed into law by the Equality Act 2004, reliance was placed on the wording of Recital 14 of the Directive, "(14) This Directive shall be without prejudice to national provisions laying down retirement ages", to conclude that it was not necessary to amend section 34(4) Employment Equality Act 1998, "Without prejudice to subsection (3), it shall not constitute discrimination on the age ground to fix different ages for the retirement (whether voluntarily or compulsorily) of employees or any class or description of employees."
However, case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union, CJEU, has since established that national provisions laying down retirement ages could amount to age discrimination if they cannot be justified under the specific terms of the directive. In particular Article 6.1 entitled “Justification of differences of treatment on grounds of age” provides that:
Member States may provide that differences of treatment on grounds of age shall not constitute discrimination, if, within the context of national law, they are objectively and reasonably justified by a legitimate aim including legitimate employment policy, labour market and vocational training objectives, and if the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary.
The CJEU has, in the course of a series of judgments, applied this test to national compulsory retirement schemes. The High Court, the Labour Court and the Equality Tribunal have applied this test in Irish cases. As a result, the text of section 34(4), which I quoted and which seems to give carte blanche to employers to set any age as a retirement age, does not reflect the law as it is actually applied.
The opportunity of the Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2013 is being taken therefore to amend section 34(4) to reflect the law as interpreted by the CJEU. The new text as accepted by the Seanad will read:
(4) Without prejudice to subsection (3), it shall not constitute discrimination on the age ground to fix different ages for the retirement (whether voluntarily or compulsorily) of employees or any class or description of employees if-(a) it is objectively and reasonably justified by a legitimate aim, and
(b) the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary.
The Bill has finished all Stages in the Seanad and is awaiting Dáil time. I am advised that this amendment, which focuses on the same section that Deputy Ferris’s Bill addresses, will go as far as it is appropriate to go in regulating retirement ages from an equality perspective. After that, the advice from the Department of Justice and Equality and the other Departments with central policy concerns is that the issue becomes too complex, with a range of interests and policy objectives to be balanced, for equality legislation.
The essential point is that our national retirement age regime must be considered in the wider context of national employment policy, labour market and vocational training objectives and national pension policy. These extend across the whole of Government. In no particular order of importance, the relevant issues in respect of which there would be implications that need careful consideration by the relevant policy Departments are as follows. In terms of pensions policy and pension schemes, the immediate implications for affordability may be positive as persons expected to retire shortly choose not to do so, but there may be implications for pension contributions calculated actuarially which could have an opposite effect. In employment law, the retirement clause in existing contracts would be made void without reference to the wishes of the contracting parties. The detail of the Private Members’ Bill would allow an employee discretion to retire at the previously envisaged age but leave no choice for an employer. Voiding a contractual agreement in such a one-sided way may itself be legally problematic. In respect of labour market and employment policy, the consideration is whether a reduction in expected numbers leaving employment may reduce opportunities for young people or advancement opportunities for people at an earlier stage of their careers. Youth employment remains a priority challenge.
Older workers must be protected against discrimination. Our law and EU law allow for compulsory retirement ages, provided these can be objectively justified. Putting in place a clear national policy framework to help the State, employees and employers to know the appropriate balance in specific circumstances requires us to consider the range of relevant objectives, including competing objectives if one looks at the problem of youth employment, for example. I look forward to the detailed examination of these issues on Committee Stage and to the contributions of other Deputies in the debate.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Employment Equality (Abolition of Mandatory Retirement Age) Bill 2014. Fianna Fáil will support the Bill and we compliment Deputy Anne Ferris on its introduction. We believe we should recognise the potential of our ageing population to contribute to and enrich our society in many diverse ways, given their talents, experience, wisdom and the many years of healthy life expectancy which most can enjoy. With that in mind, we believe it is time to abolish the mandatory retirement age in order that people can continue to work beyond normal retirement age should they wish to do so. I am concerned that some people would think we are forcing people who have had long and difficult careers, sometimes involving hard physical work, to extend their retirement age. This is strictly for people who choose to work beyond the normal retirement age. There is no compulsion in it, but it is important to say that in case some think we are trying to do something different today, which is certainly the direct opposite of what Deputy Anne Ferris is saying. Messages get mixed, however, and their original intention is transposed.
The position outlined in the Bill has been our position for some time and that is why we introduced the Employment Equality (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2012 in Seanad Éireann. Senator White has been campaigning on this issue for several years and has been very strong and steadfast in her views. We are very pleased to be discussing similar legislation today. We sought to abolish the mandatory retirement age in Senator White's original Bill. That is the essence of what we are discussing today. It is good that we are discussing it in the Dáil.
The purpose of our Bill was to prohibit the compulsory retirement of persons over 65 years of age and, accordingly, to promote equality between employed persons. This is an issue of equality.
That Bill provided that the age ground for discrimination identified in the Employment Equality Act should include any scheme or contractual arrangement whereby a person is compulsorily required to retire at the age of 65, unless such age-ground discrimination is proportionate and contributes to a legitimate aim. That reflects the spirit of what the Minister said in his conclusion today. They might not be the same words but it reflects the spirit of what Deputy Ferris is saying. In his concluding remarks, the Minister said that our law and EU law allowed for compulsory retirement ages provided these could be objectively justified, and we all accept that. We cannot force people to work longer but there must be objective criteria where there is a mandatory age for retirement. That is the essence of the argument. Some people will retire and it will be appropriate that some people retire as the demands of a job will, in some cases, make it necessary. However, the decision must be objectively justified and people must be able to see a clear rationale. Where there are no objectively justified criteria, it should not apply and it would amount discrimination on age grounds.
Our Bill, which is similar to the Bill in the House today, provides that a person shall not be compulsorily retired at or over 65 years of age providing they meet the necessary health requirements for their continued employment. It also provides a basis upon which age-ground discrimination may be regarded as proportionate and as having a legitimate aim. In some cases it may be legitimate but the grounds have to be specified. It might be necessary because of training requirements and the age ground does not apply if there is a genuine occupational requirement for a jobholder to be of a particular age. The document published by Senator Mary M. White on behalf of the party in 2012 is broadly in line with this so we have no hesitation in supporting this Bill, in spirit and in practice, and will do so on Committee Stage. The Minister said there would need to be amendments and he said that other legislation currently going through the Seanad might be amended to deal with some particular issues. It is important that this legislation comes before the Dáil as well as we do not want a lacuna to be created as a result of the Bill not passing through the Oireachtas.
The majority of older people who have reached the age of 65 can look forward to many years of healthy and active life. Society has changed and people's longevity has changed. Many people are living much longer than in the past because they are healthier and more active. I do not know if the Deputy said 40 was the new 30 or 50 was the new 40 but, as far as I am concerned, 60 is the new 40. People are more active and more conscious of their health and they are getting more careful. This is about choice for older people. They may choose to retire or they may choose not to. I accept the Minister's point that this should not be unilateral and there needs to be an objectively justified basis for it as we cannot have a situation where one party to an employment contract unilaterally has an exit clause while the other side does not.
Many older people will want to continue working after pension or retirement age, not just because they feel fit and active and capable of doing so but for reasons of income. Many people still have significant financial commitments when they reach the age of 65 and if they are fit, well and active and able to do so they should not be deprived of that income. We do not want people living in poverty in their elderly years if they are in a position to continue to work.
There will be opposition to this legislation from some people. I heard the remarks of the Deputy on unconstitutionality but I just do not buy that. It makes no sense and I think that is a lazy response. Sometimes an official feels it is his or her job to find a reason not to do something and constitutional grounds are a hardy annual for this purpose. I do not accept the principle of that point. However, some people will say it is time for older people to move on. Young people in their 30s think they know it all and think people in their 40s or 50s should get out of their way and move on. That is a fact in every walk of life and we are all familiar with young people saying certain activities are a young man's or young woman's game. However, society is changing and there are more older people in society now. This has been illustrated by what happened in Wal-Mart, which was the biggest retail company in the world, though I think it was passed out last year by Amazon in terms of retail sales. We all know of going into a DIY shop and coming across a young person, male or female, who has no clue what we are talking about while an older person will know all about it and can explain. They have wisdom, knowledge and experience so one must ask whether it is more helpful to a business to get a young person in who just wants a bit of short-term work.
There has to be an option in this legislation regarding the number of hours to be worked. A person does not have to work the full 39 or 40 hours and it may suit many people to work 20 hours or two or three days a week as the case may be. Once mandatory age discrimination is gone, a level of flexibility will be required so that people can work hours that suit them on a family-friendly basis.
We must knock some of the criticism of this proposal on the head. Some people will accuse old people of being job blockers but that is exactly the argument that was used before the abolition of the marriage bar for women in the public service in 1973, following our entry into the European Union in that year. We were decades late in getting to that point and we are now getting the follow-through from that issue. In our constituencies we are all meeting people who retired early and do not have the PRSI contribution to get their full pension. In fact, one could say those people who left their jobs on that basis have a case here. In 1992 we amended the legislation so as not to allow leaving on family grounds or taking time out for the rearing of a family to be used against people in calculating their average yearly contribution for PRSI purposes. People who had to leave early were caught in that way and that was a long-term knock-on effect.
Some people will glibly say older people are not up to it any more and cannot perform adequately. We say competence should not be evaluated on the basis of age. That would be a lazy approach. We ask people to be flexible in their approach and not to be lazy in their thinking. Just because a person reaches a particular age does not mean they cannot do something any more. If Deputy Ferris's legislation is sent to Committee Stage, as the Minister said today, we should bring the legislation forward as urgently as possible. I respectfully point out that the Tánaiste is 66, the Taoiseach will be 65 soon and the Minister for Finance is 72. Their ages have not prevented them doing their job and if it is good enough for the national Parliament it is good enough for everybody else.
Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an mBille tábhachtach seo, Bille atá tábhachtach do na mílte daoine sa tír seo. Tacóidh Sinn Féin leis an mBille agus le cúnamh Dé beidh leasuithe againn le cur os comhair an Tí ar Chéim an Choiste. Tá súil agam nach bhfanfaidh an Bille idir seo agus Céim an Choiste go deo. Tá súil agam nach mbeidh sé caite chuig an gcoiste agus dearmad déanta air. Tá súil agam go mbeidh turas tapaidh ag an mBille.
Má tá daoine breá folláin i meabhar agus corp, má tá siad cumasach agus i gceannas ar a gcuid oibre, ní cheart iad a dhíbirt as a bpoist. Leis an fhírinne a rá, tá an gnáth duine ag aois 65 láidir i dtaobh taithí, scileanna agus críonnacht. Mar a dúirt an Teacht Dála a chuaigh romham, tá neart samplaí de dhaoine mar sin sa Teach seo. Tá na tréithe sin de dhíth sa tír seo, go háirithe san earnáil sláinte, áiteanna eile mar sin agus sa gheilleagar.
Freisin, ní mór dom a rá go bhfuil go leor fianaise foilsithe faoi na buntáistí a bhaineann le saol gníomhach a bheith ag daoine ag an aois seo. De gnáth, coimeádann post an intinn géar agus an corp láidir. Tá sé an-mhaith don aoisghrúpa sin a bheith i lár an aonaigh agus ag meascadh le glúin níos óige. Tá buntáiste agus tairbhe le fáil as bheith i gcuideachta glúin níos sine don ghlúin níos óige freisin agus foghlaimíonn siad cuid mhaith ó bheith i dteagmháil le daoine níos aosta.
Ní hionann an gnáthdhuine de 65 bliain d'aois sa lá atá inniu ann agus an duine a bhí 65 bliain d'aois 60 bliain ó shin. Tá an-chuid difríocht ann mar gheall ar a inchinn, a radharc iomlán agus a sláinte. Déarfainn nár mhar ach an chorrdhuine níos mó ná an aois scoir 60 bliain ó shin. Sa lá atá inniu ann, maireann formhór dóibh siúd a shroicheann an aois scoir beagnach 20 bliain níos faide. Cé go bhfuilimid i bhfábhar na cuspóra seo, caithfear a rá go bhfuilimid faichilleach freisin, go háirithe ar eagla go mbeidh Rialtas ann sa todhchaí a bheidh ag iarraidh airgead a shabháil trí mhéad an phinsin a laghdú nó an aois scoir a ardú go héigeantach. Má tá a lán daoine fós ag obair agus iad ina seachtóidí, b'fhéidir go shocróidh Rialtas an lae gur cheart an aois scoir a bhogadh amach go dtí aois níos sine. B'fhéidir go mbeidh siad sásta an pinsean a laghdú ós rud é nach mbeidh an béim céanna á leagadh ar an bpinsean ag an aois sin. Ní rud maith a bheadh ann. Nuair a bhaineann cúpla duine an aoisghrúpa seo amach, ní bhíonn an cumas céanna acu. In earnálacha éagsúla, bíonn obair oiriúnach ar fáil do dhaoine breacaosta, ach is léir go bhfuil a mhalairt fíor freisin. Ní cheart go mbeadh aon bhrú ar dhaoine fanacht ina bpoist muna bhfuil siad ag iarraidh a leithéid a dhéanamh. Níl mé ag caint faoi bhrú dlíthiúil ach, mar is eol dúinn, bíonn brúnna éagsúla ar dhaoine san earnáil oibre. Ní cheart d'aon Rialtas cearta pinsin na ndaoine sin a íslú. Is gá cearta na bhfostóirí a chosaint freisin. Ba cheart go mbeadh an reachtaíocht soiléir faoi cad is brí le "cumas". Ba cheart freisin forálacha a dhéanamh i dtaobh na slíte dlíthiúla a bheadh ann chun daoine nach bhfuil in ann a gcuid poist a dhéanamh a scaoileadh amach as na poist sin go dleathach. Más féidir le duine jab a dhéanamh ar chaighdeán ard, ní cheart go mbeadh éinne in ann é nó í a bhrú amach as a phost nó a post. Tá sé dochreidte sa lá atá inniu ann go mbeadh aon riail eile i gceannas. Fáiltím go hiomlán roimh an mBille seo agus guím turas tapaidh air.
I am only going to make a small contribution to this debate as it is a Friday and there are not many people around. I would like to put what I have to say on the public record. I fully support my colleague's proposed legislation.
What struck me most in Deputy Ferris's contribution was what she said about those who are compelled to retire at 65 in the public sector, and who will not be eligible for their pensions until they are 66. This struck a chord with me as there is a very fine lady in my constituency; I am sure she will not mind me naming her as Pauline Masterson. She rang me and complained as a City of Dublin VEC employee that she was compelled to retire. While she recognised the compulsion, what she found most offensive as a citizen of this State was being told that she could sign on the dole for the year between 65 and 66. The civil servants were telling her "look, we will not really be looking for you to go to work."
That Irish double-think, finding a convenient way of dealing with an embarrassing situation, is outrageously offensive to those who, having put in a lifetime of work, reach retirement age at 65 and are being told with a nod and a wink to sign on for jobseeker's allowance for 12 months as the Department will not come after them and is not really serious about them looking for a job. That is insulting and it is going to get worse.
We hear that everybody is living longer. We know people are living longer; if anybody has a chance to look at my website, ericbyrne.ie, they will see that I have written----
I have done articles about people in my constituency. I am being asked to attend a number of parties for 90 and 100 year-olds - there is a person in my constituency who is 105. We are living far longer and the State recognises this on another footing, by compelling people to retire later. I understand the current situation is that we are phasing out State pension benefits up to the age of 68. If the State is recognising that people will be eligible for pensions much later in life, it is time we abolished the ridiculous concept of compulsory retirement at 65.
We mentioned the changing nature of Irish society. We only have to look around to see it. I trained as a carpenter many years ago and worked in construction. Who would have thought that in 2015 the construction industry would have female building workers, female electricians, female bricklayers - females throughout the industry? That is a change in attitudes. Who would have believed when we were kids that we would have brought in the equal right to marry for people of the same sex? That would have been unthinkable.
It is thinkable and recognisable that we are living longer. Those who do not want to retire at 65 should not be compelled. The World Health Organisation and health authorities recognise we are going to live longer. The State is changing the rules about eligibility for pensions up to the age of 68. It may be a snide remark, but we should remember the horror of us Irish people looking at the Greeks negotiating their bailout, when we discovered they could retire at 55 and 56. What craziness.
Why should someone who has something to contribute be forced to retire? Such people will have accumulated knowledge, whether it is doctors, surgeons, lawyers, judges or whatever. It does not have to be just at the profession levels. It can be right down to the example I gave of the lady who was forced to retire at 65 who happened to be a special needs assistant in a school. She is perfectly fit and healthy and quite capable of continuing to work, and she wants to work.
Why are we pushing people out? There is a concept that life is finished at 65: "You are no longer required, we don't want you any more, get out there and sit by the fire." If it is a fellow he can smoke a pipe and look at the telly for the rest of his days. If it is a woman she can sit there and----
----and prematurely age at home. Important issues have been raised by this Bill and I support it.
If I may sidetrack slightly, I want to address the question of when the election will be held. I mentioned it the other day when I was asking four questions on where our legislation was on various issues. The Minister of State might have a word with the Taoiseach and say "look, we are fighting a Seanad election." We heard Deputy Ciarán Lynch talking about the banking inquiry this morning. Imagine if it was abandoned after the money, time, effort and political energy put in by so many Members. That would be the big scandal in the next election.
The case for holding off on the election is very strong. How could we insult intelligent people contesting a Seanad election by telling them that if they get elected in November, they will be the shortest lived Senators in the history of the State?
I want to make the case for extending the length of time this Government remains in power and to support the content of the Bill.
I am happy to support this Bill in the name of Deputy Anne Ferris. When I think of a subject such as this I think of the German Chancellor in the 19th century, Bismarck, who first introduced a widespread scheme of pension provision, partly to halt the rise of the Social Democrats there. His assumption was that people would live for three years after they retired. Clearly, we have got well beyond that. On average, people live way beyond three years into retirement. There is a real issue here. One could tie that in with the pensions time bomb. By far the largest spend in the Department of Social Protection is on pensions. If people are willing and able, it is important that they be allowed to work beyond the traditional pensionable age of 65 or 66, even though I recognise and voted for the legislation which is gradually leading to a higher pensionable age for people to begin retirement.
When thinking about the Bill, I had in mind politicians who worked well beyond pensionable age. The record is mixed. There are definitely people who did their countries great service beyond pensionable age, but there are also cases in which people hung on too long. One has only to think of De Valera. Even if one was an admirer, which I was never brought up to be, one would have to say he hung on too long as Taoiseach, until the age of 78. As against that, Churchill led Britain as a pensioner during the Second World War. While he did not do a good job in the 1950s, he certainly did a good job in the 1940s. In Finland the Finns diligently elected President Kekkonen because they knew he had the talent to prevent the USSR, as it then was, from encroaching on the rights of the people of Finland. He held office until he was in his late 70s or 80s. I said the record is mixed.
There is a point at which people should retire. It is hard to put a fixed age on it, as people age at different speeds. There are people, unfortunately, who want to work when they are incapable of doing the job they were once able to do. In our thoughts on this subject, we need to be sure it is possible to retire people when they are incapable of doing the job as well as they used to. It is important also to recognise the needs of younger people as they come into the market and to make space for them to get involved. That is, perhaps, an even more important point now. The world is changing so much because of the advance of technology that in many cases younger people are better placed to contribute on that front. A balance is required here. Clearly there is a need to allow people work beyond the traditional retirement age, but also we have to ensure that when people are no longer capable of doing the job properly they must retire. Most people will recognise that, but occasionally there are people who do not, and we have to ensure that is allowed for. In the broad sense, I support the Bill.
I welcome the Employment Equality (Abolition of Mandatory Retirement Age) Bill 2014 and thank Deputy Anne Ferris for taking the time to put it before the House. The Minister of State is right when he said that age discrimination should not be countenanced. The Bill brings fresh air and open thinking into the debate. There is a need for balance in most legislation, but on this occasion the Bill is balanced and fair. I thank the Deputy for taking the time to bring the Bill before the House.
I am concerned about the Deputy's statement that there might be people in Departments who are kicking this Bill to touch because they do not want to address the issue. I do not know the reasons or what is behind it. As politicians we get elected to come to this House to make decisions. People do not realise that when we leave as politicians there is a public service which does a very good job. However, it is politicians who need to highlight these issues and push Bills out of the darkness and into the light. Politicians are elected to make decisions, whether right or wrong. I am not casting aspersions on the public sector, but it is not elected. It does not take the risks that politicians take in putting themselves forward for election. While it does an excellent job and is competent and honest, sometimes politicians can make the difference because they listen on the ground to what people want.
In regard to age discrimination, I wish to speak on behalf of the private sector. I grew up in Boyle, County Roscommon. My family had a newsagent in which my mother worked 80 hours a week all her life. She retired at the age of 80. She was very valued in that business. When she retired - she is now 87 and still driving a car - the cost of replacing her by paying somebody the minimum wage for 80 hours per week would have been €1,000. She had expertise was able to save money. That business did not survive. If the lady who retired at the ripe old age of 80 was paid the minimum wage, we would be millionaires. That is just an observation that there are people in the private sector who work in family businesses from the age of 15, and the abolition of the mandatory retirement age is something I want to highlight.
I agree that the security-related exemptions for the Garda Síochána, the Irish Prison Service and the fire services are necessary. Sometimes there are people who have many years of service who have to retire. We saw this happen in the case of many of the gardaí who retired with pension adjustments. We lost a huge tranche of expertise and work practices due to pounds, shillings and pence, effectively.
Once again I wish to speak about the next election. The national and local media are, perhaps, leading politicians. I wish to put on the record that I have a small wager with a major bookie who likes publicity.
That bet is at 13/8 for a 2016 election and I am looking forward to going in before Christmas and cashing in that little wager with that bookie. I believe the general election will be in 2016 and that this is right and proper. The Fine Gael and Labour Party Government has been an excellent Government; of course I am biased. It has saved the country and needs another term. I believe there will be a general election in 2016 and I look forward to supporting my candidate in the Roscommon-Galway election. This speculation is not helpful to the Government and national and local media should have more to do and should talk about all the good things that have happened through the Government. I believe the election will be in 2016. I thank the Chair for her indulgence and look forward to supporting this Bill.
I thank Deputy Ferris for bringing forward this Bill. In matters such as the working life of the people, it is important to keep issues under review in order that reality is reflected in practice.
In property law, the 21-year fixed rent lease is something that obtained for almost a century. This was because it reflected the reality of the time. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, leases were given to tenant farmers on big landed estates. The average life expectancy was 42 years of age and the age of majority allowing a person to sign a legal document and hold a lease was 21. If we do the maths, this allowed a fixed tenancy lease of 21 years and we had economic stability reflecting reality.
After the Second World War, we had the arrival of fast-moving commercial businesses. Certain types of businesses, such as steel and textiles, had heavy fixed assets, tended to be longer living businesses, existing through two or three generations and whose owners tended to buy their premises and machinery. However, commercial life became even faster moving following the Second World War and businesses changed organically in regard to the types of assets, employee numbers and skills they needed to conduct business. The 35-year lease became a reality and lawyers introduced laws to adapt to the reality of the changing businesses.
With the loss of price stability, we need to reflect reality and have reviews every five or seven years. It is important therefore to consider legislation that examines and questions the realities of people's position in gainful employment. I therefore thank Deputy Anne Ferris for bringing forward this legislation. In some areas of work, experience and length of service are hugely important, for example, in the courts. How can judges in their mid-40s have the experience and wisdom to determine a case being heard before them? Have they sufficient life experience, expertise and familiarity with the law to arrive at a fair decision and judgment in a case where there is to be a penalty or award? If a person has worked through to his or her 70s and is blessed with an active mind, significant experience and a fair view, his or her peripheral judgment of life is a better skill set to bring to bear on the work he or she is doing. This is just one example of a certain calling in life where an extension of time is valuable.
The same applies in the science area. I met a vice president of the European Parliament, a Spanish professor of science aged 71 whose name I cannot remember at the moment. He has colleagues and collaborators in nuclear science and physics who are Irish based and who had to retire from their professorships at university at the age of 65. He named professors I did not know who had to retire and said it was a tragedy they had to do so because they had so much more to give. It is absurd that these people were forced to retire at 65 and that is another good reason this legislation is welcome.
I would like to touch on an issue other Members have mentioned, and the Minister of State smiled tongue in cheek at the mention of it, namely, the election. Imagine if someone about to do university examinations put all his effort and preparation into project work in preparation for a May examination, but the student then got the jitters and said he thought he would go for the repeat examination in September. Would that not be cowardly? Would it not be cowardly of the Government to make a similar change to its plans? Would it not be cowardly to stop short, like pulling up Arkle with one furlong to go in a steeplechase? It should do its job. It promised to do the job over the full term. It should not be afraid but be courageous.
The people will respect that courage. They are not fooled. Do not get jittery, do not get the political yips, just do the job. There is legislation to be enacted. The Government should tell the people it intends to run the course and carry through the Bills in the schoolbag. Be men and women and bring them over the line. Do not be like nervous teenagers and call the election in pursuit of a more solid mandate before Christmas before bigger jobs need to be faced or avoided. Do not do that. The Government should remember also that it has staff who have committed to it for five years. Political and advisory staff were told there was a big job to be done and hard decisions to be made. The Government should do them rather than talk about them and distract from them. That is the challenge for the Government, but that is what leadership is.
Deputy Wallace has spoken out on the NAMA issue and Deputy Catherine Murphy has spoken about IBRC. The Government should investigate and do the root canal work. On the hospitals and health front, it should get in there, examine the trolley issue and start to do something to involve management instead of allowing the representatives of the midwives and nurses get panic attacks because of the number of people arriving into accident and emergency units. It should also deal with issues such as CIE. These are the hard jobs that need to be done and the Government should not avoid them.
Next Tuesday, there will be a budget. The Government must make it fair. If there are any last-minute adjustments needed, the Government should make them. It should not mess around with the people.
I am totally on topic. I am nearly 65, and I expect to be able to work beyond the age of 65. Although Deputy Eric Byrne looks like he is only in his mid-40s, he is probably a month or two older than me.
The Deputy is less than 10% older than me, which is immaterial. These are important matters. The Government must get rid of all distractions and focus. This is what the team managers do before the matches, such as the one we won last night. They focus. They do not think about playing a defensive game and hope to get a lucky goal in extra time.
The Government must put the bit in its teeth and energise. How many Bills are there to be dealt with? Was it approximately 38? If the Government is serious, it can get many of those dealt with instead of saying it would like to have a surer term. Life does not work like that. Life is about what is in front of us. If one does what one can do today well, the rest will look after itself.
The Bill, which is excellent, asks for a sharper focus and a clearer view of where the people stand in terms of their contribution in the work areas of life. There are many types of work and they do not end at 65. There is no lowest common denominator. The Bill is a timely reminder that there are still five months to go, and that the Government should get down and do the work. This is what the Government said it would do and it has a mandate. It should not mess around like a group of students saying they think they might have a better go at the exam in the autumn.
I thank Deputies for their contributions to the debate and also on the "When Will the Election be Held?" Bill 2015. Or is it 2016? As I mentioned in my opening remarks, we are making a important amendment to the retirement age provisions in our Employment Equality Acts and another Private Members' Bill is due to come before the Dáil from the Seanad as soon as a time slot is made available to us. This amendment reflects the evolution of EU law as interpreted by the European Court of Justice and the jurisprudence of our national courts, and will go as far as appropriate in regulating retirement ages from an equality perspective. After this, a national retirement age regime must be considered in the wider context of national employment policy, labour market and vocational training objectives, and national pension policy. These extend across the whole of Government, including pensions policy and schemes, employment law, the labour market, and employment policy in the context of major unemployment, which remains a priority challenge.
Wider work on retirement policy issues was previously taken forward in a working group on working and retirement under the aegis of the Department of Social Protection. The Departments of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and Justice and Equality were also represented on the working group. The social partners were also involved in the working group. Further consideration of the range of policy issues must be addressed in a cross-departmental way in consultation with the social partners. We have had such discussions about strengthening Oireachtas oversight in pre-legislative scrutiny in the Oireachtas, taking the initiative in consulting with society at large on policy issues so as to inform the decision making process.
While I would not wish to instruct any committee on how it should go about its business, I agree that there would be a very useful role for the relevant Oireachtas committee to take the lead on further analysis and consideration of the wider context in which retirement age questions must be examined. This could be done by undertaking further consultation with all stakeholders before the detailed examination of the Bill to ensure the detailed examination is fully informed by the views of all relevant stakeholders. My Department and other Departments with lead roles in the relevant policy areas will be very happy to support the committee system in that work. Again, I thank Deputy Anne Ferris for introducing the Bill. There are important issues which we need to consider in detail, and the Oireachtas is well placed to initiate consultations in a wider context with all those who have an interest in retirement age and work-life balance issues.
In terms of the potential for a forthcoming election, there is plenty of work I would like to proceed with during the coming months, including the international protection Bill, the misuse of drugs Bill, the family leave Bill, and amending section 37 of the Employment Equality Act 1998 on Traveller ethnicity. There are many matters I would like to knuckle down to and get over the line.
I thank the Minister of State for his two contributions, the Department officials for the assistance they gave him, and all the Deputies who made contributions, especially my comrades Deputies Eric Byrne and Robert Dowds. I also pay tribute to Senator Mary White, who, as Deputy Sean Fleming mentioned earlier, has been working on the issue for a long time. I spoke to her briefly yesterday about it. In my contribution I mentioned the Department, and on reading it subsequently, I felt I was picking holes in it. As Vice Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, I would not like anybody in the Department of Justice and Equality to feel miffed at me or feel I was attacking them, which I was not.
I ask myself whether the Department of Justice and Equality is the right place for the Bill. Although it is employment equality legislation, the Minister of State mentioned labour market and employment policy, employment law and pensions policy and pension schemes. These issues do not fall under the Department of Justice and Equality. Many Departments, including the Department of Social Protection, will have to be involved. It should have fallen within the remit of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation rather than the Department of Justice and Equality. As Vice Chairman of the justice committee, I am pleased it will come before us, however, and I urge that it be sent to the committee as soon as possible. Then we can hold hearings and have the experts in to answer questions on the related issues. The Bill was studied by a very senior legal counsel who is now a judge in either the High Court or the Supreme Court. If the "When Will the Election be Held?" Bill does not pass before Christmas, I hope this will come before us before Christmas.
Deputy Mathews's remarks on judges apply to Deputies. When I hold my clinics, many people say they would have gone to another representative but felt I was of an age to understand. It is a question of life experience. Many people cannot afford to retire at 65. They may still have mortgages or may have remortgaged their homes in order to help out their children over recent years.
They may have a split mortgage. They may want to work as long as possible, as long as they are healthy. There is legislation to deal with people who are not doing their jobs properly, no matter what age they are. Next week is budget week and we will hear speeches from Ministers and Deputies who are well past the age of 65 but who are doing a tremendous job. I compliment them. They would not like - no more than President Michael D. Higgins, the Pope or the Queen of England - to be told that once they reach the age of 65 they can no longer do their jobs.
I am glad the Bill got a hearing today. The Friday sittings are fantastic. It is a new departure which gives people such as me the opportunity to speak on our Bills. I thank the Minister of State for his patience. He took both Bills here this morning. I thank the Department of Justice and Equality officials and everybody who has worked on the Bill. We will get it to Committee Stage, hopefully soon, and it will be debated before the election next spring.