New code of practice targets age discrimination in employment

In June 1999, the UK government launched a non-statutory code of practice on "age diversity in employment". The CBI employers' organisation endorses the government's voluntary approach to tackling age discrimination, but the TUC trade union confederation and other groups continue to argue that legislation is needed if employment practices based on "ageism" are to be eradicated.

On 14 June 1999, the UK government launched a new, non-statutory code of practice to encourage employers to adopt policies designed to avoid age discrimination in employment. The code - Age diversity in employment- covers good practice in six areas of the employment "cycle", urging employers to:

  • recruit on the basis of the skills and abilities needed to do the job;
  • select on merit;
  • base promotion on the ability, or demonstrated potential, to do the job;
  • encourage all employees to take advantage of relevant training opportunities;
  • base redundancy decisions on objective, job-related criteria to ensure that the skills needed to help the business are retained; and
  • ensure that retirement schemes are fairly applied, taking individual and business needs into account.

The code recommends: avoiding the use of age limits or age ranges in job advertisements; using mixed-age interviewing panels; ensuring that age is not a criterion for redundancy; and considering alternatives to early retirement for those whose skills and abilities may be lost.

The launch of the code follows a government report in August 1998 proposing a non-statutory approach to combating age discrimination (UK9809148F), and the publication in November 1998 of a consultative draft code developed by a working group including representatives of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Trades Union Congress (TUC), Institute of Personnel and Development, Age Concern and other groups (UK9811161N).

The CBI supports the government's voluntary approach to combating age discrimination. John Cridland, the CBI's director of human resources policy, said: "We believe the code will help to change attitudes and achieve fair treatment for all ages in the workplace. It provides a simple and practical tool for employers to help them make sure equal opportunities are universally applied. We strongly believe that unjustified discrimination on grounds of age is unacceptable and likely to be wasteful of valuable skills, potential and experience. The case for attracting and retaining skilled people from all age groups is commercially sound."

However, trade unions and other campaigners on the issue of age discrimination are more sceptical about the likely effectiveness of non-statutory action. TUC general secretary John Monks commented: "This new code makes it plain that recruitment and employment practices based on ageism have no place in the modern workplace. For this the government is to be congratulated. But the danger is that a voluntary code will do little to stem the excesses of Britain's worst age discriminators. Nothing short of a change in the law will stamp out this unsavoury behaviour."

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