LRD Booklets July 2013

Representing older workers - a guide for trade union negotiators



The UK has an ageing population and an ageing workforce. Throughout the 1990s, fewer than 8% of men over 65 and women over 60 were in work. By 2006, this had increased to 10% of men and 12% of women of state pension age (SPA). And the number of staff aged 65 and over who are still in work has doubled in the past decade. In addition, the over-50s now form more than a quarter (27%) of the UK workforce and by 2020 it is estimated that they will make up almost a third of workers.

As the public services union UNISON points out, the recent abolition of the default retirement age (DRA) and the rising SPA both mean that people are likely to remain in work for longer. The General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU) general secretary Doug Nicholls put it succinctly: “We face the prevailing culture of work till you drop whether you want to or not. The widespread assault on deferred wages as pension schemes and state pensions are reduced in value is giving an increasing number no choice but to work longer and harder but for less at the end.”

The coalition government is increasing the SPA to 66 for both men and women between 2018 and 2020. It also announced that it will change the law again to increase the SPA to 67 between 2026 and 2028. And although the SPA is already scheduled to rise to 68 by 2046, this target will now be subject to five-yearly reviews, as announced in January 2013. And the government’s changes to public sector pensions, which provoked co-ordinated strike action by unions, will certainly mean that public service workers will have to pay more, work longer and receive lower pensions in future.

Additionally, although there are inequalities in life expectancy and health in old age, people are on average living longer and are healthier for longer, and some both want and choose to work for longer. The law now allows them to do that. The abolition of the DRA in 2011 gives employment protection to all workers regardless of their age and they can no longer be dismissed or retired just because they have reached the age of 65.

Despite accusations of “job blocking” levelled at older workers who choose to work beyond the “normal” retirement age, the Age and Employment Network (TAEN) chief executive Chris Ball argues that this development is good for the economy as a whole: “If people can work longer and apply their talents and skills to the economy, this has to be conducive to economic growth, the creation of demand and more jobs for younger people”, he argues, citing the results of a large OECD study, Live longer, work longer. This shows that countries where people remain in work longer before retiring are generally more likely to also create jobs for younger people.

The challenge for trade unions is to:

• ensure that people are not forced into working later;

• make sure that the work older workers (i.e. those aged 50-plus) carry out is “good work”, with decent pay and conditions and sufficient flexibility, so that working longer supports good health; and

• overcome the widespread age discrimination that prevents many older workers from gaining access to jobs, training, promotion and career development; or sees them being “managed” out of their jobs by the inappropriate use of performance management or capability and competence procedures.

In order to meet this challenge, unions and union reps need to ensure that issues affecting older workers are both included and considered a priority at the bargaining table.

This LRD Booklet aims to arm union reps with the information they need to be able to support, represent and negotiate on behalf of their older members.

It provides an outline of the law on age discrimination and retirement and looks at why older workers need flexible working arrangements and flexible retirement provisions. It examines research on the health and safety of older workers. And it sets out a range of guidance on best practice on the employment of older workers, including recruitment and selection, promotion, training, terms and conditions, performance management, retirement, redundancy and pensions from organisations including the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), advice and conciliation organisation Acas, the Chartered Institute for Personnel Development (CIPD), the TUC and a range of trade unions.

Examples of good practice in particular workplaces are given throughout the booklet, and reps are pointed in the direction of further information.

Facts and figures about older workers

• Current employer plans suggest that we will need to fill 13.5 million job vacancies in the next 10 years, but only seven million young people will leave school and college — older people are the main untapped source of labour.

• People are living and keeping fit for longer: most of today’s 65-year-olds will live beyond 80, and some will live beyond 110.

• Older workers are increasingly looking to extend their working lives, with over 50% of workers aged 55-plus planning to work beyond the state pension age.

• Although 88% of employers believe that older workers can bring skills and benefits to their business, people aged over 50 are least likely to be recruited once they are out of work.

Source: Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) (February 2013) Employing older workers — An employer’s guide to today’s multi-generational workforce (