Select Committee on Education and Employment Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 6

Memorandum from Devon County Council and UNISON Devon County Branch

INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND TO DEVON

  The age distribution of the labour force in Devon now is similar to the national projections for 2010 and beyond. 42 per cent of the working age population are aged 45-64 years; and less than 18 per cent are under 25 years. One in twenty of working people in Devon works for the County Council. More than half of the Council's staff are aged 45 years and older, and three per cent are less than 25 years old. Devon County Council employs 24,000 people.

  Devon County Council's policy for promoting Age Diversity in the County Council's Workforce aims to:

    —  recognise the long term reality of the age shift in the workforce;

    —  create and maintain a working environment that both values the contribution of older workers and is attractive to younger people.

  The policy was introduced in 1999.

    —  The age diversity policy is part of the County Council's project for Valuing Diversity, alongside gender, race and disability policies.

    —  Younger and older people are included in evaluation of issues in age diversity through links with the Devon Youth Council (DYC) and the AGILE Older Person's Advisory Group.

    —  Dates of birth no longer appear on application forms.

    —  Upper age restrictions have been relaxed in the deployment of supply teachers.

    —  Access to renewal of employment contracts beyond retirement age has been improved.

    —  Access to enhanced early retirement benefits has been restricted for people in the lower fifties.

  Plans for further work include:

    —  Promoting engagement of community networks to support the development of public policy with specific reference to age issues.

    —  Improving access to training and career development within the County Council.

  Devon was a pilot site for Better Government for Older People (BGOP). There are continuing links between the County Council's Age Diversity initiative and the Older Persons community advisory group (now known as AGILE) established by the BGOP project. We also maintain contact with the Teignbridge PRIME project. Teignbridge PRIME is a local partnership of public and independent sector employment service organisations. Its aims are to provide improved access to employment advice and support for older people. It is led jointly by Teignbridge 55+ (a voluntary organisation) and the Teignbridge Enterprise Agency.

  Devon County Council is a member of the Third Age Employment Network and an Associate Member of the Employers Forum on Age.

  Devon County Council has been allocated funds for consultancy from the Department for Education and Employment Work Life Balance Challenge Fund initiative.

  The Devon County Branch of UNISON has over 5,600 members and has co-operated with DCC and within the Joint Trade Union Liaison Committee to raise awareness of age related issues including discrimination by attitude and deed. UNISON is continuing to collaborate with DCC to change attitudes of ageism in the workplace and has successfully submitted, in 2000, a motion to the UNISON National Delegate Conference calling for legislative safeguards against ageism.

SPECIFIC QUESTIONS OF THE SELECT COMMITTEE INQUIRY

In what ways and to what extent are older workers treated less favourably than younger workers as a result of their age?

  Reported individual experience is of . . .

    —  Reduced access to training.

    —  Reduced opportunities for career development . . .

. . . with increasing years.

  Some younger people and some older people alike believe that access to promotion may be prejudiced by their age. Women returning to work after raising a family feel this keenly. Some women who have not had a career break also express concern about a perceived narrowness in the age range of their promotability—too "immature" before 35 and "past it" once they reach 40.

  Although access to early retirement for people over 50 years is now more restricted than it was, there remains a cultural expectation that as they advance through their fifties people are likely to make a progressively less useful contribution in the workplace.

  These perceptions, attitudes and beliefs create barriers of expectation to individuals making a full contribution at work.

  The local government pension scheme regulations create barriers to older workers taking advantage of the full range of flexible working options. Where an individual reduction in working hours results in lower pay for reduced hours the qualifying years of pension will be reduced accordingly. Older workers taking advantage of this also run the risk of the pay level multiplier being reduced if they do not return to their full pay within the three years prior to retirement. This is an important consideration for many older workers who have responsibilities caring for ageing parents, and little control over the duration of their need for the change in conditions. Younger workers on the other hand have more time ahead of them to regain their previous pay level and thus minimise the impact on their pension income. A remedy would be to widen the period prior to retirement from which to select the best year's pay for pension entitlement calculations. Currently this is three years—amending this to ten years would bring the rules for voluntary reduction in pay into line with those for involuntary reduction.

  Staff working for Devon County Council in the over 60 years and under 20 years age groups are present in consistently greater proportions in the casual workforce than in the contractually employed workforce. Individuals may be in casual work out of choice or personal necessity. It should be remembered that their security of employment, employment rights and access to training are less favourable than is the case with contracted staff.

What benefits does promoting age diversity in the workplace offer to employers and employees?

  The County Council will benefit from:

    —  higher levels of commitment from all employees irrespective of their age or level of seniority;

    —  individual skills and experience directed to meeting the Strategic Plan, and improved individual flexibility to respond to Best Value; and

    —  widening the choice of people for doing work irrespective of age—availability of teachers at a time of shortage being a case in point.

  Individual employees of all ages:

    —  can expect decisions about their employment to be based on their capability and potential rather than their age;

    —  will have improved access to meaningful work with regard to their preference and capabilities.

In what circumstances (if any) is the use of age as a criterion for the recruitment and retention of employees justified?

  The principle to be applied is that criteria should be related specifically to capability. As well as being discriminatory age is an inappropriate criterion because it is a poor predictor of capability. An example sometimes quoted is whether there should be an upper age limit for PE teachers because of the need for physical fitness. The answer is that physical fitness should be assessed as physical fitness and age should not be used as a short cut to a decision. Fitness varies enormously between different people of the same age.

Recruitment

  In this organisation Health and Safety laws prevent the employment of people under 18 years of age in certain environments or for the use of certain equipment. This seems reasonable for the protection of young people, although the 18 years age threshold might be an anomaly in comparison to 17 years for control of a motor vehicle.

Retention

  A case is commonly made that access to training should have an upper age limit related to the expected remaining working life of the person concerned. The principle is too often applied in an extreme way that is discriminatory to older people, and revealing of age prejudice. Two particular features of mis-application are:

    1.  Over-estimation of the expected return in working years with the same employer from younger people: five years of operational working life from an employee with a newly acquired vocational qualification is as much as most people would expect on average when asked seriously to reflect. After this time the person is likely to be with another employer or to be working with some significantly different content to their job. It is unreasonable and discriminatory to invoke the need for a longer expected period from older people.

    2.  Over-estimation of the "shelf-life" of learning in a changing working environment. Learning undertaken in (say) the year 2000 will need to be continuously refreshed and renewed throughout the following decade irrespective of the person's age.

  It should be as common for people in their fifties to undertake vocational training as it is for people in younger age groups, and for many people this will remain appropriate into their sixties. The common expectation of diminished access to training and re-training for people older than 40 is certainly inappropriate and wasteful at individual, organisational and national economic levels. It is an inhibitor to economic flexibility and underplays the role of experience and acquired skills and judgement.

How effective is the Government's Code of Practice in promoting age diversity in the workplace?

  It is difficult to use the existing Code of Practice to promote age diversity. This is because people expect a Government Code of Practice to carry some sort of statutory force. To have to refer to it as a voluntary code carries an immediate inferred message that it is "not really important", and devalues the promotional worth of the code. The Government's undertaking to introduce legislation by 2006 helps more.

  UNISON is pressing through the TUC for Government to bring legislation forward and seeking much improved national safeguards over the European Directive minima.

In what ways do other Government policies such as the New Deal help or hinder older workers, especially unemployed job-seekers?

  The County Council has a scheme for the recruitment of unemployed job-seekers in the New Deal. Initially this was for younger people within the 18-25 New Deal. Since the introduction of the other New Deal categories the age balance has shifted and most of the take-up is now from people over 25 years. However we have recruited no-one over 50 years old through this scheme. We do not know the reasons for this.

Is there a case for anti-discriminatory legislation and, if so, what provisions should it include?

  Generally non-statutory advice tends to be ignored.

  Legislation helps to create a level playing field for employers and workers.

  People are beginning to recognise there is an issue—law adds a harder edge to pursuing the issue.

  A requirement for monitoring is essential.

  Legislation against age discrimination is the policy of UNISON nationally and of the Devon County Council branch of UNISON.

Devon County Council and UNISON Devon County Branch

January 2001


 
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