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Older Workers and Good Practices

Europäische Union - 20.09.2005

Employment of Older Workers: examples of good practice

Meeting co-organised by Mr Philip Bushill-Matthews, MEP, co-President of the Intergroup on Ageing and AGE – the European Older People’s Platform

20 September 2005, European Parliament, Brussels


Chaired by Philip Bushill-Matthews MEP

Claude Moraes, MEP
Jean Lambert, MEP

Philip Bushill-Matthews, MEP
Noora Heinonen, Finnish Permanent Representation to the EU
Robert Strauss, Head of Unit, Employment Strategy, DG Employment, European Commission
Gerlinde Ziniel, Research Manager, the Dublin Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions
UNICE, Lorena Ionita, advisor on social affairs
Bart De Steur, AGE, the European Older People’s Platform
Henri Lourdelle, ETUC
Anne-Sophie Parent, AGE

Mr Bushill-Matthews MEP announced that he is the European Parliament’s Rapporteur on the European Commission’s Green Paper “Confronting Demographic Change: a New Solidarity Between the Generations”. He added that he would take ideas from this Intergroup meeting to the European Ideas Network think-tank meeting he will be attending in Lisbon. He also complimented AGE and its Director, Anne-Sophie Parent for doing a great deal of work on behalf of older people.

Noora Heinonen – Finnish Permanent Representation to the EU

Ms Heinonen emphasised the demographic changes in Finland, with a falling working population and the population itself is being reduced. Only the 55+ group is increasing in number. In terms of the employment of older people, Finland was not doing so well in 1997, with only 37% of over 55s in work. With policy changes, the level in 2003 was over 50%, suggesting that the Finnish approach is likely to provide useful examples of good practice.

How did Finland manage this?

In the 1990s, the Finnish situation was not conducive to keeping older workers in employment. There were generous early retirement schemes, including a pensions scheme that could be taken from the age 53. There was little flexibility in the system.

Finland has brought in a 63-68 years flexible retirement age and provides a bonus for those staying in work. It is expected that people will stay in work on average for an additional 1.5 years by 2030. The details are set out in the Finnish National Strategy Report (part of the Open Method of Coordination process). It is clear that pensions systems alone will not make the necessary differences and therefore, it is necessary to:
To develop employer pension contribution harmonisation and work on disability pensions.
To improve working life, programmes have been launched by ministries and by civil organisations. Extending working life as part of a multi-level and integrated strategy.

Factors making a difference:
Increasing demand for older workers as labour supply falls
Creating a better working environment for all employees, not only for older workers
Improving pensions rules to promote active ageing (introducing a flexible retirement age and a pension bonus for those who stay in work longer, reform of disability pensions and equalizing the pension contributions for all age groups).
A strong economy will help too.

The paper “Finland for people of all ages” was distributed in Nov 2004 to the Finnish parliament. This documents sets out a comprehensive ageing strategy, such as incentives to stay in employment. It is being discussed in the national parliament and will be discussed during the Finnish presidency. The training efforts will be increased for all workers. Ms Heinonen pointed out that the Finnish approach aims to accommodate the special needs of older workers with the need to develop an employment policy that can benefit all age groups.

Part of this strategy is joint work between the government and the social partners. The coming years will bring profound changes, but Finland is optimistic. “The starting point is to look at ageing as an opportunity and not a problem.”

Gerlinde Ziniel, Research Manager, the Dublin Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions

Ms Ziniel said the Foundation had four key messages:
The ageing workforce has moved the social policy agenda
There is a momentum for change in some organisations, but attitudes and commitment must change.
There is a need for investment.
There is a need for new structures and approaches in society, to adapt to the increasing numbers of older workers.

The Foundation has been gathering data though its project looking at combating age barriers in employment. The new project is called employment initiatives for an ageing workforce, covering 11 new countries, including Austria, Belgium, Greece, Finland, France, and UK. Germany, Sweden, Spain, and Luxembourg.

It is clear from the research that for most countries in the project, they still need to work towards attaining the Stockholm and Barcelona employment targets. It was noted that there are initiatives to improve employment of older people in 130 organisations.

Products of the project:
A database of case studies, which will be available from Nov 2005
A guide to good practice in the management of workers as they age, in terms of a life course approach

Other innovative elements include looking at new initiatives and encouraging social dialogues.

Second phase of project:
The project will extend to five new EU member states: Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Latvia and Estonia. The project looks at how to extend working life and extension of working age, especially for women and low paid workers. The project is due to begin by mid 2006.

What can be learnt? That we can refine factors for success and assess their effectiveness. We can describe and analyse background factors and obtain precise information about implementation. This work can then be used to create key messages.

UNICE: Lorena Ionita:
Ms Ionita set out UNICE’s key messages about the Green Paper on demographic change: That there are two approaches, the Intergenerational and working life. UNICE welcomes the intergenerational approach, as that is the only approach which will improve the overall functioning of the workforce, rather than by focussing on certain categories of people. Targeting certain age groups would be a mistake, as it would favour one group over another.

Policy responses, should allow differentiation according to individual needs. For UNICE this means sound public finances, not passing financial burdens on to future generations, making financial systems sustainable, allowing real access to life-long learning, better educational opportunities, including better functioning of the labour market. This means creating a more favourable environment for young and older entrepreneurs. This would include modernising social protections systems and removing unemployment traps (where is it may appear to be in the individual’s interest to remain unemployed, than to seek work). More Incentives are needed to keep people in the labour market.

This UNICE view is distinct from the working life approach: UNICE would like to see policies facilitating more flexibility for individuals as they evolve through their working life. This would include life long learning and a more flexible approach with regard to reconciling work and family responsibilities.

Companies and older workers
Older workers are important for companies and there are concrete examples of effective policies. There are examples in the retail and banking sectors, e.g. Asda (part of Wal Mart) in the UK wants older workers as it has identified a demand for them from customers seeking advice on products at their stores. In the banking sector, Deutsche bank is seeking better age diversity.

Health and safety of older workers is important and so it is necessary to make modifications to physically demanding tasks. The Dublin Foundation has information on this subject.

In March 2005, UNICE produced 124 page report looking at employment, setting out its views and ideas for reform. In the report national and sectoral agreements are set out, along with looking at good practice, e.g. ProAge in Germany.

With the European Trade Union Confederation there is a joint work programme for 2003-5 and the issue of the ageing workforce is part of this. The conclusion of the report is that this is an important topic for the social partners and it will continue to be included in the 2006+ work programme.

Bart De Steur for AGE, the European Older People’s Platform

Mr De Steur said that he is pleased that older workers are listed as a goal in the European Commission strategic aims set out in its Cohesion report. It remains the case however, that despite the European Commission’s 2000 framework employment Directive, older workers still face discrimination, in re-accessing employment or remaining in employment past the age of 50.

Age discrimination is a highly complex and a novel concept for many in the EU. There are diverse causes of this discrimination. If we are serious about tackling it, a multi-disciplinary approach is required to remove barriers and create incentives. These actions would include:

Ensuring that right legal framework is in place – there must be effective transposition and implementation of the Employment directive. AGE in 2004 did an analysis on this, and presented the results at the annual implementation review of the Employment directive at the Intergroup on Ageing at the European Parliament in December 2004. Articles 6 and 35 allow the maintenance of Age limits. The AGE network is concerned that in a number of countries there has not been serious attention paid to Article 6 and that many countries do not have a clear idea of what constitutes an objective justification of discrimination, as set out in the employment Directive. The relevant governments need to set out the criteria for “objective discrimination” to clarity.
Legislation not enough, active labour market policies are required. Lessons need to be learnt from the past, especially examining long-term structural and cultural attitudes, which can making employing older staff less attractive to employers.
More than financial incentives are needed; employers can help by paying attention to work-life balance, mobility, and training. Older workers need to feel valued. More needs to be done to change mentalities of employers and employees. The Work place needs to be adapted to the needs of a more diverse group of workers, which should benefit all. Their performance and output will then improve.

The greatest challenges are to make diversity policy the foundation and to change attitudes of employers and employees to older workers.

Henri Lourdelle, ETUC

Mr Lourdelle emphasised that it is the social partners who can most effectively make a contribution to the resolution of the question of how to address the unacceptable level of unemployment in the EU – the issue is bigger than the older workers question.

“What can we do right now, today? Not only in the medium or long term?” There are preventative steps, which can be taken to improve employment in terms of quality and quantity. It is unacceptable that in the EU, 50% of over 55s are unemployed. How can we stop this economic and social problem?

What does social and economic cohesion mean, Mr Lourdelle asked, when half of a group are out of economic circulation (not to mention the cost of pensions and benefits). He said it was vital to ask the right questions such as: “What jobs are available? How does this impact on employment, industrial policy and on so-called social dumping? What does this mean for the investment strategy of enterprises? What investments should be made? How can quality jobs be created? What ideas can the social partners produce and turn into action that makes a real difference?

Mr Lourdelle noted that one approach suggested by some is to increase the state pension age. But, he said, people are currently retiring years before the current state pension age and so this must be addressed first. Prioritising getting the effective retirement age up to the official state pension age will make a huge impact. When most worker do not reach the normal term of their career, it does not make sense to talk about theoretical targets for prolonging working life, without addressing this issue first, and particularly the reasons behind it. People should indeed exit less quickly from the labour market and the ETUC has good evidence for the reasons that this happens and practical suggestions to address it.

Some key points:
Public authorities have the responsibility to address the scandal of high levels of unemployment in the EU and the need to create high quality jobs. The European Commission is one of the actors. There is a risk that when there is something difficult to be done, the EU may say that it is the responsibility of the social partners. But, it is also the responsibility of the EU member states – they should make it more difficult to sack older workers, to improve life long learning and to create opportunities for older people.

There is also the necessity of more social dialogue. Solutions include concluding negotiations for better conditions and adapting the work place so that it is more productive for both older workers and employers.

Crucially, it must be remembered that there is not only one category of older people, there are many categories. It is different for those working under the most arduous conditions, to those with creative, fulfilling jobs, undertaken with good terms and conditions of work.
There are Preventative measures:

A: To take into account women’s working conditions and the interruptions of their careers, often to care for children, parents or other relatives. How can today’s enterprise prepare better for the return to work of women after career breaks? How can women and single parents be reintegrated into the labour market?

B: How can structures be developed for the reintegration into the workplace so that family life is not damaged?

C: The Intergenerational approach. When you are young it is a problem to enter the labour market. Employers ask for experience and qualifications such as a diploma– how is this possible?

D: Migration policy: How do we welcome appropriately and permit certain workers from outside the EU. This problem needs to be addressed urgently.

Robert Strauss, European Commission, Head of Unit, Employment Strategy

The refocused Lisbon strategy addresses ageing issues and this is reflected in the EU’s Employment Strategy (EES), commented Mr Strauss. The new employment guidelines specifically mention attracting older people into the labour market.

One of the EU employment guidelines is to improve the life-cycle approach to work. The guidelines say that the member states should provide incentives for worker; he added that older workers are key to the success of the EES. Older workers are also referred to in the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines, and asks the member states to increase the labour supply and to promote a life-cycle approach to work.

The EES seeks to:
Discourage early retirement – we do not want to increase the pensionable age, but to increase the effective age of retirement
Reforming the tax and benefit system, that is, removing incentives to leave too early
Look at quality of work – more and better jobs
Training and life long learning, if older workers are to stay in work and be retained they must have ”at least as much access to training” as other workers
The need to change attitude
To reinforce social dialogue

Mr Strauss concluded that much of the EES is about exchanging good practices. The Finnish example was used partly because its results have been so good. The European Commission is convinced that the kind of effective reforms we have seen from the Finns is an area where the member states and the social partners should to do more. Other countries have made positive changes: “…the Commission is convinced that mutual learning is at least as important as formal guidelines or recommendations.”

Discussion on examples of campaigns for getting older people into work

The Dublin Foundation has a project on “Combating Age Barriers”.

Q: MEP Edith Bauer asked whether discrimination against women according to age is a special issue. Henri Lourdelle replied that women have two ‘handicaps’, one to suffer discrimination through the fact of being women and two, to be ageing and/or old. In some areas only 30% of 55+ women are working. Women are affected both by age and their caring responsibilities. Women with children at school tend to work part time so that they can work hours that fit in with school hours.

A: Mr Strauss also replied that there is a very low employment rate for older women in some EU states, for e.g. in Malta. Lorena of UNICE said that it was true that there is a low participation rate of older women, but this is not only because of discrimination, there are also structural problems.

Ms Parent of AGE said that in Sweden where there is a high employment rate for women, there is also a high level of services for dependents. You will find that where there are not high level and inexpensive services for dependents, that the employment rate is very low. If you are a grandparent and you want your daughter to work, you need to help her with the grandchild as well as look after older parents.

Q: A representative of EMPIRICA, said that there are organisations in the EU, which have developed strategies, mostly in the production and manufacturing sectors, but there is no strategy in companies for dealing with information or high technology. In these organisations, implementation of these strategies has usually failed. There are companies who are presented as shining examples, but implementation does not work except on paper. What do the panel think about this?

A: Ms Heinonen replied that few large companies, as far as she knows, are making strategic plans regarding their approach to older workers. It was popular before 2000 to have these sectoral projects, which helped raise the issue for society as a whole. Mr De Steur advised the questioner to contact the British Department for Work and Pensions – who give recognition to companies through awards for having a positive approach to older workers.

Q: John Harlan, from the European Social Network, asked if there was the potential to have 100% employment and asked the panel to unravel the statistics.

A: Mr Strauss recalled that the target is 50% in a job, not 50% looking for a job. The remaining 50% not in work included job seekers, those on benefit , those inactive but with a pension, or on disability benefit, or not looking for work (women carers), etc. Currently in the EU, just over 40% of people are working.

Lambert Van Nistelrooij, MEP said that the EU budget is an important factor in this, and asked how can the EU budget be used to make a difference. The Dutch government does not want the European Social Fund (ESF) to be addressing ageing, but ageing should be in a substantial way in the budget.

Mr Strauss added that, the Commission thinks there is a strong link between financing various issues for active ageing and projects that the ESF could finance. In its initial proposals for the ESF, there was a provision for money to be used by Member States to invest in human capital, including for today or tomorrow’s older workers. The question of how do you ensure that future older workers are fully equipped for high quality jobs must be addressed.

Q: Mental Health Europe’s representative Mary Van Dievel said that those who lose jobs could become depressed. Also older workers may not be able to follow developments as fast as young people. Sometimes younger colleagues treat them unfairly, and there can also be health and disability issues.

A: Mr Lourdelle (ETUC) has looked into this matter with disabled colleagues. The question of working conditions, if you are under too much pressure, you will become unhappy at work, this is also applicable to younger workers. This applies when you are older and also when you are handicapped.

Ms Ziniel (Dublin Foundation) said that health and safety measures in firms are very important.

Philip Bushill-Matthews concluded by stressing that the MEPs in the European Parliament often repeat the Lisbon Strategy’s mantras, like “more and better jobs” – but it is useful to be reminded that the employment of older people is a key plank – as the Stockholm and Barcelona targets show. We must remember that the Lisbon Strategy and its targets will not happen unless we make it happen. So who do we mean by “we”? This means governments, and stakeholders including companies, unions, NGOs and individuals. Stakeholders themselves need to be able to influence policies and outcomes. The policies must suit individual needs – there is no one size fits all. We need different solutions, especially policies to recognise the needs of individuals.

It is less difficult for Finland as a richer country to reform – those from many of the new member states with fewer advantages face more of a challenge – we must not lecture them, but try to inspire them.

Mr Bushill-Matthews added that unless there are more jobs overall, how can you make them for one sector? In some countries jobs for older people are perceived as being at the expense of others. It is vital that we do not fall into this trap – the solution is to create more jobs in total.

As a point of best practice, government, social partners, companies and individuals need as a mind set - “to shout about success” rather than point at failure. Ageing is an opportunity and is an issue for all of society, not just older people.

Quelle: Intergroup on Ageing and AGE – the European Older People’s Platform

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