OHRC and CARP fight forced retirement

Kay Gallop never dreamed she’d end up on what amounted to a blacklist, but there it was in black and white: a letter from the district school board, her former employer, telling her there’d be no more teaching.All the schools within the board’s jurisdiction had been notified that they were not to hire her on an occasional basis.Gallop’s sin? The popular teacher, who had retired two years earlier after a 42-year career teaching high school, had passed her 65th birthday.Missed work life
“It burst my bubble,” says the resident of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. She’d been filling in for an absent teacher for a few days when the axe fell.

“And I was just so thrilled to be back in the saddle again,” she recalls.

Gallop had missed the energetic atmosphere of the school. She’d taught English, but her real passion were the practical social sciences programs like parenting, fashion arts and textiles and a course called “Gentlemen’s Independent Living” that readied students for life after leaving school.

She’d even assisted a footbalplayer tailor a white jacket for his graduation, after first helping him weave the wool fabric. “I still have his picture,” she smiles.

No provincial protection
But Gallop’s chances of getting back into the classroom, even on a part-time basis, are remote.

Ontario currently offers no protection against age discrimination in the workplace for people 65 years of age and older (nor do British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland).

“The school board has turned a deaf ear,” she says grimly. “They’re not changing their policy.” (The board’s website invites retired teachers to apply for occasional teaching positions but does not mention an age limit of 65.) Nor are teachers’ organizations supportive.

“I’ve called six,” she notes. “They say it’s not their jurisdiction. It’s the policy of each and every school board.”

Face frustrating barriers
Older people face frustrating barriers imposed by society’s misconceptions about what it means to age.

In 1999, during the International Year of Older Persons, Ontario’s Human Rights Commission initiated a province-wide process of consultation on age discrimination.

Released in June 2001, the resulting report, Time for Action: Advancing Human Rights for Older Ontarians, noted that age prejudice is deeply ingrained in our culture.

Now, the Human Rights Commission and CARP, Canada’s Association for the 50 Plus, have joined forces in a public awareness campaign about age discrimination in Ontario.

The Time for Action report pointed out that Ontario’s current Human Rights Code perpetuates ageism, permitting mandatory retirement at 65 and offering no protection from age discrimination for 65-plus workers.

Next page: Code amendment needed

Code amendment needed
The report recommended the government amend the definition of age in the provincial Human Rights Code so that people 65 and older would have the same protection in the workplace granted other employees – in effect, not be forced to retire on the basis of age.The report also urged employers and unions to act, revising retirement policies and collective agreements requiring employees to retire at 65.

During the press conference, Richard Kratz, a senior cost clerk at DeHavilland-Bombardier in Toronto dramatically announced that he had exactly 29-1/2 hours left before his compulsory retirement.

The collective agreement between his union and the company has a mandatory retirement clause and the union has refused to hear his appeal.

Unions are myopic
“The unions are so myopic,” says Kratz. “They think [by supporting mandatory retirement] they are protecting the jobs of younger people but what has happened at DeHavilland-Bombardier since June is that hundreds have been laid off, most of them younger people who have the least seniority.”

Human rights legislation throughout Canada does permit mandatory retirement where it is seen to be a bona fide occupational requirement (BFOR), for example, where working conditions are frequently severe.

Firefighters, for instance, are usually required to retire at 60. Federally, uniformed personnel in the armed forces and in the RCMP are also faced with compulsory retirement, usually before age 65.

“I wasn’t lifting heavy weights,” protests Richard Kratz, “I was sitting pushing a pencil. I’m 65 but I still have energy and my brain is still functioning.”

Hard to justify
He points out that mandatory retirement has been virtually eliminated in the United States.

Age-related retirement restrictions are becoming harder to justify. Studies have confirmed that effectiveness on the job doesn’t appear to be related to age. In fact, there are greater differences in performance within an age group than there are between age groups.

And keeping capable employees in jobs they enjoy—and often need—won’t keep young people from employment or upset corporate pension planning.

Some more threatened
Certain groups are economically disadvantaged when they’re not allowed to continue working:

  • Women who have taken time away from the work force to raise families
  • Recent immigrants
  • People who have had to leave jobs to care for ailing parents

People in these categories are particularly threatened. Their shorter periods of employment prevent them from putting adequate retirement income in place.

Canadians, it appears, are living longer, healthier lives and yet are retiring earlier than ever. Some have taken advantage of early retirement programs while others have gone unwillingly, downsized in the ’90s by governments or business.

Next page: Future workers needed

Future workers needed
By 1996, the average age of retirement was 62 for men and just under 61 for women. In the future, however, the services of workers 45 and older will be essential to a productive economy.They’ll make up 40 per cent of the work force by 2010 when there will be fewer young people available to step up to take their place.

Current attitudes that prevent or discourage older people from working as long as they wish need re-thinking.

Doesn’t make sense
Does it make sense to keep an experienced, enthusiastic and qualified teacher like Kay Gallop out of the classroom because she’s over 65, especially when the school board is faced with a shortage of teachers?

Teaching on an occasional basis resembles phased retirement schemes that allow employees to retire gradually. Although not in widespread use in North America, there is some evidence that older employees would prefer to retire in stages.

Employers such as DeHavilland-Bombardier would then benefit from the years of experience of workers like Richard Kratz. And he would have a more satisfying, step-by-step parting from the company and his union alike.