03 February 2017
The government yesterday announced a new strategy to “encourage the over 50s to reap the benefits of work” – a phrasing that seems to place responsibility on the unemployed for their own bad luck – at a time when it is systematically undermining the very mechanisms that could help older workers fight for their rights.
In its new “Fuller working lives” paper, the Department for Work and Pensions notes that one in four men and one in three women reaching state pension age have not worked for five years or more.
In order to reduce the unemployment rate for older workers, the government promises to provide “additional help” to older people using JobCentre (including those with long-term health conditions and disabilities); and encourages those over 50 to retrain for a second career! It also puts “adult skills budgets in the hands of learners and employers” but doesn’t ringfence any of the resulting apprenticeships for older workers.
As for employers, they will be provided with evidence of the benefits of recruiting and retaining older workers and reminded not to discriminate.
While many older people want to work and find it difficult to find a job, the government’s strategy seems destined to be undermined by the protections it has removed from workers. Since the introduction of tribunal fees, older workers now have to pay £1,200 to fight a case of age discrimination. In addition, the introduction of Universal Credit – which the paper argues will help older workers return to work – risks encouraging employers to keep their standards low. As our publication Re-regulating Zero Hours Contracts highlights, increasing pressure on workers to take any work available to them further discourages employers to invest in training or to create high-quality jobs, because workers will be forced to take whatever they are given.
Trade unions can negotiate for the rights of older workers, for flexible working, and for retraining; while collectively agreed dispute procedures, a free at the point of use labour court system, and the introduction of labour inspectors into workplaces to ensure workers receive the rights they are entitled to, would improve workers’ access to justice and therefore the enforcement of the law.
Our Manifesto for Labour Law, 25 recommendations for the reform of employment law, is designed to discourage employers from creating insecure, low-paid jobs (such as those as Sports Direct); and encourage them instead to invest in and train their workforce. The Manifesto has now been adopted by the Labour Party.