Age diversity guidelines agreed in commerce sector

In March 2002, the European-level social partners in the commerce sector agreed a set of voluntary guidelines on promoting age diversity at the workplace. The guidelines focus on areas such as non-discrimination, equal access to training, and adaptability of working time arrangements in order to allow older workers to carry on participating actively in the labour force.

A new European-level joint text in the commerce sector was signed on 11 March 2002 by the EuroCommerce employers' organisation and, on the trade union side, by the commerce section of UNI-Europa, the European regional organisation of Union Network International (UNI). The document sets out voluntary guidelines supporting age diversity at work.

The parties to the guidelines acknowledge that the workforce in Europe is ageing, due to demographic trends, and that employment policies and practices need to be adapted accordingly. The commerce sector employs a large number of ageing workers, whose professional experience 'constitutes an asset which should not be neglected'. The parties state that a different approach may be needed in the case of older workers, particularly in the areas of new technology and knowledge-related functions. They agree that there needs to be a focus on age at many levels: on the part of governments (which need to put into place the appropriate legal frameworks), the social partners and enterprises.

The document therefore lists six points which are intended to constitute voluntary guidelines to help employers and employees to deal with the age aspects of human resource management:

  1. 'ageing' or 'mature' workers are those defined as such in legislation, agreements or codes of practice at European or national level;
  2. ageing workers shall not be subject to discrimination at the workplace. Further, an age-neutral approach should be adopted in employment relations, including in the areas of recruitment, vocational training and the distribution of positions within the company. The social partners in particular should work at abolishing age stereotypes at the workplace;
  3. older workers and their employers should jointly consider any mutually beneficial options allowing them to remain in active working life or to retire earlier. This could be achieved though flexible retirement schemes;
  4. age should be taken into account when designing jobs, bearing in mind that modern technology and ergonomics can increase productivity and enhance the quality of work;
  5. the social partners have a special role to play in facilitating the integration of ageing workers. There should be incentives for workers of all ages to embark upon learning and training. In particular, it is important for older workers to have equal access to training opportunities; and
  6. mutually-agreed schemes should, where relevant, pay attention to the specific requirements of older workers. For example, working time arrangements could be adjusted to ensure that the changing needs and capacities of workers are met. Further, voluntary part-time and flexible working time could be scheduled to allow ageing worker to remain in the workforce until retirement. The parties stress that the potential negative effects of such arrangements on the future pension entitlement of workers should, however, also be considered.

The social partners state that they will continue to examine ways in which to allow ageing workers the possibility of remaining in active life.

The new guidelines are the latest in a series of innovative joint texts concluded by the EU-level social partners in commerce (EU9807115F) - with previous initiatives covering matters such as workers' rights (EU9911213F), teleworking (EU0105214F) and employment (EU0005243N).

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