Press release, 22 February 2001

Supporting older workers

European governments should reverse their policies on early retirement and promoting policies which support older workers to remain in employment, according to the conclusions of a report - Active Strategies for an Ageing Workforce - published by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions in Dublin.

European governments and the social partners need to rethink policies for the ageing workforce because of the implications for funding of pensions and early retirement, together with the need for a competitive workforce and an adequate supply of labour. Robert Anderson, research manager at the Foundation, says that in the coming decade the major challenge facing policy makers will be to reverse the trends from exit and exclusion of older workers towards strategies to improve employment prospects of the many different groups in the ageing workforce.

'This will demand multi-disciplinary and co-ordinated approaches involving governments and especially the social partners, as well as workers themselves. There are signs of change and signals about the necessary measures; but significant investment in the ageing workforce requires a fundamental re-orientation of policies, concepts and attitudes,' says Anderson.

The promotion of skills, competitiveness, and working capacity of the ageing workforce demands action throughout the whole of working life. Active policy approaches should be preventive, avoiding age-specific employment problems by combating risks in earlier phases of working life. Specific measures such as opportunities for self-employment, are both necessary and effective in improving prospects for unemployed older workers.

The report, Active Strategies for an Ageing Workforce, stresses that a systematic co-ordination of measures is required, and achievable, at both enterprise and public policy levels. A close co-ordination of public and workplace policies is warranted; there is also a need to link enterprise initiatives with use of local community services such as social security, education and care.

While the report emphasises policy initiatives, it also points out that effective measures depend upon worker involvement from the start, not only as 'experts in their own matters', but also in realising integrated actions at the workplace level.

Demographic changes are rapid in both the workplace and the wider community. There should be a means to monitor developments in national, local and workplace policies in the years ahead; this should consider impacts not only for the ageing workforce but also for intergenerational solidarity. Evaluation, though difficult, is essential to inform effective practice and to avoid unintended consequences. Economic evaluation is particularly lacking, and there is a general need for research to support the development and implementation of policies.

The report was written by Gerhard Naegele, Professor of Social Gerontology and Director of the Institute of Gerontology at the University of Dortmund.

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