Public service compulsory retirement age set to rise to 70

Contractual mandatory retirement ages have been a topical Irish employment law and socio-economic issue for a number of years now.

Broadly speaking, Irish and EU law has to date allowed employers to continue to rely on clauses in contracts of employment to forcibly retire employees in many cases. While such contractual clauses might be seen by some as a form of age discrimination, employers have largely been able to objectively justify such a practice due to the need for succession planning and for reasons of “inter-generational fairness”.

Nevertheless, many economic factors continue to drive a need amongst various categories of employees to work later in life. The difficulties in this regard are emphasised by the fact that the State pension age has already increased to 66 and will increase further up until 68 in the coming years. Additionally, the view that older and more experienced workers have much to offer employers continues to grow.

Therefore, the announcement last week by the Government that many public sector workers will now be entitled to work until 70 is a significant development which may ultimately have ramifications for the private sector also. This change will give many public sector employees (other than frontline staff) a right to work until 70 even where their existing contract of employment might provide for an earlier age.

Interestingly, the announcement also suggested that a proposed Workplace Relations Commission Code of Conduct will examine the issue for the private sector.

It may even have a persuasive, tacit influence on the mind of some Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) Adjudicators deciding on future retirement related age discrimination claims. There is certainly a view that such claims are becoming steadily harder for some employers to defend, even where they have clear clauses and a policy of “succession planning”.

This is undoubtedly an issue where we will see further development in 2018.