Memorandum from Devon County Council and
UNISON Devon County Branch
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
Dates of birth no longer appear on
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
In what ways and to what extent are older workers
treated less favourably than younger workers as a result of their
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 promotabilitytoo
"immature" before 35 and "past it" once they
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
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 yearsamending 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 ageavailability 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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
issuelaw 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
Devon County Council and UNISON Devon County Branch