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Mandatory Retirement Is Disappearing Mark Swartz, M.B.A. M.Ed.

About the Author

Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is Canada's Career Activist. His insights reach millions yearly as the Workopolis.com Career Advisor, as author of the best seller "Get Wired, You're Hired," also as a professional speaker and coach on career/work issues. A former Toronto Star careers columnist, Mark's advice is forthright and practical. For Canada's biggest directory of free career articles, and for personalized coaching, please visit www.CareerActivist.com.

This week the University of Toronto opted to end mandatory retirement for professors and librarians over age 65. In the spring Ontario's legislature will likely introduce a bill to do the same for all employees province-wide. But is this a good thing?

To be honest, I can see convincing arguments on both sides of the issue. Let's stick with academia for starters. Imagine you're a mid 30's university professor who's awaiting the holy grail of the tenure track (guaranteed employment for life). Until you get it, things can be precarious. All those years of schooling, teaching and publishing. Still no guarantee of academic freedom or regular work. So how do you feel knowing that you may have to wait in limbo for even longer now? Probably more than a little miffed, is my guess.

Consider then the 64 year old union worker, who is still be making rent payments or struggling to build up her retirement fund. Or maybe she just feels too young and vital to be put out to pasture. Mightn't she be cheering on McGuinty and gang to push through a bill that would allow her to continue working for as long as she likes?

Since September 2004 the Ontario Minister of Labour has been holding consultations with workers and employers. The goal is to determine how best to deal with mandatory retirement. If it's to be implemented here, it'd require a change to the Ontario Human Rights Code as well as other provincial legislation. Currently it's illegal to discriminate against employees on the basis of age, but only if they're between the ages of 18 to 65. Same in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.

According to the Ministry of Labour's website, ''A number of jurisdictions in Canada, including Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec, Yukon, NWT, and Prince Edward Island, have‚ made mandatory retirement unlawful, except in limited circumstances.'' An example would be where employers can show age is a bona fide requirement of the job, as with airline pilots.

Why has this matter become so important as of late? Thank demographics: Canada's population, says StatsCan, is aging inexorably. The number of Canadians aged 65 and over is expected to double from nearly four million in 2000 to over eight million by 2028. Seniors will account for approximately 22 per cent of Canada's population by 2028, compared with about 13 per cent in 2000.

I've had many heated chats with colleagues about this trend. The centrist and left leaning folks (the ones who typically vote Liberal, NDP or Greens) are torn down the middle. ''Give others a chance'' some shout. Let's assist women, recent immigrants and the less fortunate. ''Freedom of choice!'' others bellow. Let those approaching retirement determine their own future.

The libertarians (who vote, somewhat obviously, Libertarian): ''The less government interference the better.'' If people want to work until they drop, it's their decision. If employers want to discriminate, c'est la vie. That's why we have courts. (Note to self: remind Libertarians that lawyers tend to cost more per hour than the average worker earns in, well, humiliatingly long intervals).

The right leaning folks (they wear ''Vote Harper'' lapel pins and like to think of George W. Bush as the incarnation of Mother Theresa for the wealthy) are dead set against it. ''We own the means of production. We should be able to fire whomever we want, whenever we want.'' Besides, have you seen how cheap it is to hire in China and India these days? Who needs expensive geezer Canucks?

Regardless of where you teeter on the politics spectrum, there are very real concerns to address in terms of ending mandatory retirement. The Consultation Paper addresses many of these:

Economic:

* Would it make Ontario more or less attractive for investment?

* What is the potential impact on volunteer and non-profit organizations?

Labour Market Issues:



* How do you think it may affect decisions by workers about staying at work or beginning work in Ontario?

* What is the potential impact on young workers or newly trained workers seeking to enter the workforce?

* What issues, if any, would be raised about promotions or career progression opportunities?

Employment Issues


* Would it have an impact on terms and conditions of employment in unionized shops (30% of Canada's workforce?) and non-unionized workplaces?

* What would be the impact on human resources practices, procedures, and policies?

Social And Human Rights Issues


* What pressures, implicit or explicit, on people and employers may result?

* What would be the impact on vulnerable groups?

* What quality of life issues may arise?

As is evident, there are all sorts of perspectives when it comes to mandatory retirement. Younger workers may well resent their more senior peers for being ''job hogs'': not only did the elder group come through what could ultimately prove to be the most munificent period of employment growth and stability in history, but now they're hanging on and freezing us out again.

On the other hand, those hoping to work past age 65 may resent their juniors presuming to force them out, or labeling them ''has beens,'' especially if the seniors are not quite ready to pack it in.

Whatever arises on the legislation front, it's sure to be controversial. Check out www.gov.on.ca/lab for ongoing developments either way. And if you're wondering which way I'm leaning, at 46 (2007) and self-employed, the decisions here don't affect me directly. Most likely I'll be toiling away 'til they have to scrape the cobwebs from my eyelids.

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