National programme for older workers launched

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Finland's national programme for older workers started in March 1998, bringing together various Ministries, municipalities, expert organisations and the social partners. The programme focuses on people over 45 years of age and aims to change the attitudes of employers and employees by spreading the latest, research-based information on the factors that influence older workers' employability, ability to work and working conditions.

The national programme for older workers (FI9708125F), which aims to change employers' and employees' attitudes to ageing, was launched in March 1998 in Helsinki. The Ministry of Health has the main responsibility, and is in charge of executing the programme together with the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Education. Furthermore other Ministries, the trade union and employers' confederations, municipalities, expert organisations and other public institutions are involved.

The reason behind the programme is the remarkable change that will take place in Finland's age structure during the coming years. The number of people aged between 24 and 49 years - ie those currently most desired as employees - will have diminished by 150,000 persons by the end of this decade. At the same time, the number of people between 50 and 60 will have increased by 170,000. The employment level among older people is low, and some "employable" people seek an early retirement pension, while the participation in the labour market of the over-60s in Finland is less than the EU average. The structural change in the labour force is increasing the risk of marginalisation of older workers, and this may bring substantial costs for both companies and the national economy if the ageing of the labour force does not come to be seen at an early stage as an element of strength for Finnish working life. The implementation of the national programme involves renewal of the relevant structures and legislation, and also various studies, training and experimental projects. The programme will be supported by a communications strategy in order to achieve a nationwide debate.

In connection with the launch of the programme, a media panel - including key figures from the world of employment and the media - was held on 25 March 1998 in Helsinki. A member of this panel, the deputy managing director of the Confederation of Finnish Industry and Employers (Teollisuuden ja Työnantajain Keskusliitto, TT), Tapani Kahri, admitted the inadequacy of two schemes agreed by the social partners - the unemployment pension (introduced in 1985) and the individual early retirement pension (introduced in 1993) - which had led to both employers and employees favouring a low retirement age. He was hoping for changes in legislation and attitudes. The chair of the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (Suomen Ammattiliittojen Keskusjärjestö, SAK), Lauri Ihalainen, stressed the importance of interchange between work, education, and rehabilitation and wanted to create conditions such that workers would thrive more at work so that their desire for retirement would be postponed.

It seems that the social partners are at least willing to change attitudes concerning ageing. During spring 1998, it will become clear what kind of concrete measures the partners are able to agree upon.

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