Thursday, 31 March 2022
Employment Equality (Abolition of Mandatory Retirement Age) Bill 2022: First Stage
That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Employment Equality Act 1998 and to provide for related matters.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to introduce this Bill. Simply put, this Bill seeks to abolish the mandatory retirement age contained in workers' contracts. Similar Bills have been introduced down through the years, and while successive Governments did not oppose them, they did not support them to the point that they brought them to their conclusion and this issue remains unresolved.
We have all acknowledged that it is an issue, but we have not yet seen action from Government. Every year, workers are forced out of jobs because of their age, not because they want to retire or have to retire for ill-health or any other reason but simply because it states in their contract that they must retire. The law facilitates the imposition of mandatory retirement ages in people's contracts of employment. It allows employers to set the age at which a person's career can be brought to a conclusion, regardless of how much work that worker has left to do or if he or she wishes to remain in work.
Sinn Féin fundamentally believes that at the age of 65, a worker should have the choice to work on if he or she so chooses, which is what this legislation facilitates, or to access the State pension. The current situation is ageist and unfair. We need to change it. The Government is denying workers the choice to retire and the choice to work on as they get older. Inaction on this has left workers in limbo. Many are forced onto the dole and they do not want to be on it. They do not necessarily want to retire, but want to work on. Unfortunately, the only option is to access the dole. After a lifetime of work, we believe that workers deserve to have that choice. There are exceptions in the Bill for those in security and specific industries that already have special, preserved pension ages. Sinn Féin believes that age should not be a ground to terminate a person's employment. This Bill is about giving workers a choice. It will put an end to the facilitation of ageism, which should have no place in our society. It certainly should not be presided over and facilitated by the Government.
I am glad to introduce this Bill with my colleague. This legislation has passed Second Stage in this House unanimously twice. It was passed in the previous Dáil and the one before that, but here we are again. Despite obvious support in this House and among the public for a long time, nothing has been done to make this happen. This is about giving workers a choice when it comes to retirement. For far too long, employment contracts have stipulated that workers must retire at the age of 65 and that they are no longer able to do their job at that age. That is rubbish and has been since it was introduced. It remains in many cases.
This issue was made worse when the State pension transition payment was abolished by Fine Gael and the Labour Party in 2014. Workers who were forced to retire were put onto a jobseeker's payment. I will always remember being contacted during that time by a 65-year-old who needed help putting together her curriculum vitae. She had worked for 40 years. It was a stipulation for receiving the jobseeker's payment that she sought alternative work. That is the position that many workers were put in at that time, after paying their wages, taxes and working hard for many years. This was an incredible insult to older people.
It has been an issue for a long time. Despite a name change from a jobseeker's payment to a benefit payment at 65, and while I acknowledge that the requirements for the jobseeker's payment have been removed, it is not right that those retiring at 65 cannot access the State pension. It is not right that they have no choice and that just because they turn 65, they are asked to leave their jobs. That element of choice is important. Workers should have a choice between retiring and working on. I hope that this House will not just support the idea of the abolition of mandatory retirement, but that it will actually act to make it happen. Many workers want to work on. In some cases, they are well able and willing to, sometimes for financial reasons and other times just for social reasons. It is important and I hope that, once and for all, it can actually happen.