The Employment Equality Acts 1998 and 2004, administered by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, among other things, protects against discrimination on the ground of age in relation to access to employment. However, they also permit an employer to decide on a retirement age in a particular employment to give flexibility to employers and employees, having due regard to the nature of the work being performed.
There is no age discrimination in employment rights legislation and there are no provisions in employment or equality law that impose a compulsory retirement age in relation to employment.
In addition, the Equality Act 2004 removed the upper age limit of 66 for bringing claims under the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977-2005. The removal of the age cap of 66 years for statutory redundancy is also included in the recently published Protection of Employment Bill 2007.
Ireland has experienced a significant rise in the employment of older workers in the past 10 years with the employment rate rising by 10%. The employment rate for older workers is 53%, which is already ahead of the EU target for 2010 of 50%.
The March FÁS/ESRI job vacancy data indicate that the demand for labour remains strong. The survey indicates that employers anticipate a rise in their current employment levels over the coming months. This will help to increase employment levels across all age groups including older workers. In addition, employment rates among the lower age groups are high and this will feed through to higher employment rates for older workers in the future.
In the light of the continuing demand for labour, emphasis is being placed on encouraging people including older workers to return to or remain in employment. Initiatives taken in this regard include: The Preventive Process, whereby those on the live register are referred to FÁS for assistance, was extended to those aged 55-64 on a national basis in 2006, with the live register period for referral being reduced from six months to three months; The Community Employment scheme was extended, since 2004, to allow for those over 55 years of age to avail of a six-year period to engage in useful work and training within their community; and Expanding the Workforce provides a gateway for women returnees into the labour market. Many of these women fall within the older age groups.
In addition, FÁS offers training courses suited to the needs of both jobseekers looking for employment and employees wishing to improve their skills. Increased funding has been allocated to FÁS to enhance training for those in employment, including older workers, under the One-Step-Up Initiative, as well as to the independent Skillnets Training Networks Programme. This will allow workers the opportunity to acquire new skills (including portable skills) and competencies so as to perform higher added-value tasks. Training is being focused on those with low level of qualification and in low-level occupations so that they are better prepared and more inclined to stay in the labour market.