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Print says No to working through Golden Age

The state retirement age is being raised to 70 alongside measures to outlaw age discrimination. But what does the industry think? By Gareth Ward

All sides of print were united last week, agreeing that the government's decision to allow people to work until 70 was not a good idea.

In a poll for Printing World which was carried out by Harrison Scott Associates, around 90% said that they are opposed to such legislation and the idea of working beyond 65 did not appeal. Unattributable comments received made this plain: "I am 65 in a week's time and having worked full time for 49 years, believe it's time for a rest from the stresses and strains of this trade. I'm looking forward to retiring within the next month or two."

Others were more direct: "Work till 70? Not blooming likely!"

In the survey only sales staff showed any inclination to continue beyond the current retirement age, and even here only 14% said they would be in favour of the new legislation.

Opposed to proposals

This feeling is backed by the GPMU where deputy general secretary Tony Burke says: "We are opposed to the proposals leading to a work till you drop mentality in some companies where our members may be pressurised into continuing to work until beyond retirement age."

At one time refusal to retire was a blight on the industry, particularly in Fleet Street. It prevented the recruitment of young people and was largely down to the huge discrepancy between a bloated weekly wage package and a miserable pension.

Even now with the average of those working in the industry at 47, the industry shows an alarming demographic bump towards the top end.

George Thompson, managing director of Harrison Scott Associates, says that opposition to the Government's proposals is shortsighted. "Unemployment levels are low, we have a skills shortage and we are living longer. The over 60s will soon make up 40% of the UK population. Older workers are well known to be more reliable, have better customer facing skills, and often have a better understanding of business needs than their younger counterparts.

"In addition to these facts we must realise that that if the population is ageing then employers will have fewer younger candidates to pick from.

"Surely it makes sense to value the older worker and to provide them with ongoing training as this way they will still be productive members of staff into their 60s and 70s - if they elect to remain in employment.

"I think that if we had carried out the same survey five years ago, the results would have produced a higher yes count. The pressures in the industry in the last two to three years in particular have obviously contributed to the high no result in each category."

The legislation, which follows an EU Directive, has to be in place for 2006. It will outlaw any kind of age discrimination in the workplace, alongside discrimination on the grounds of religion, disability or sexual orientation. According to a government consultation paper, the same penalties apply to any employer found to be practicing age discrimination as when sex or race discrimination are found.

It is this aspect that is alarming the BPIF. Cicely Brown, director of corporate affairs says: "We are going to be working with the CBI on this to see whether employers can influence retirement age of whether this will prove a licence to go to tribunals."

"One of the issues we have a the moment on the training side is that government funds for vocational training are restricted to the 16-23 age group, so is totally age discriminatory. If employees are working longer, they will need to be retrained and upskilled. We recognise that it's important to get rid of age discrimination but it has to be balanced with the skills of the workforce. So we'll be asking, is there an opportunity to get rid of age discrimination in government funded training?"

On the scrap heap

While opposed to parts of the proposed legislation the GPMU is in favour of some aspects, Mr Burk declaring: "We are not opposed to legislation which helps stop companies throwing older workers on the scrap heap. We have many incidences where our members are made redundant in their late 40s or 50s and find it difficult to get work in the industry again, therefore anything that helps these workers is welcomed." However, there are those that are more than willing to work beyond the recognised retirement age. Hamish Thomson chairman of J Thomson Colour Printers in Glasgow, is legendary for his continued enthusiasm for the business even though he is now into his 70s and from CTD Capita, sales director Tony Foo declares: "Retirement at 70? They should have made it 80!"

It looks like the government will introduce legislation allowing people to retire at 70 if they wish to do so. Are you in favour of this?

Directors:
Managing directors, financial directors, operations directors and sales directors
Graph of directors responses

Sales staff:
sales managers, sales executives and account executives
Graph of sales staff responses

Production Staff:
Estimators, production controllers and production managers
Graph of production staff responses

Works staff:
Minders, shift supervisors and works managers
Graph of production staff responses