Government publishes draft code of practice to combat age discrimination at work

In November 1998, the UK government issued a draft code of practice designed to encourage employers to eliminate unfair age discrimination in employment. However, campaigners believe that legislation is needed if the fight against age discrimination is to be effective.

On 16 November 1998, the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) published a consultative document setting out a draft "code of good practice for age diversity in employment". The stated aim of the code, which has been developed by a working group including representatives of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Trades Union Congress (TUC), Institute of Personnel and Development (IPD) and other campaigning organisations, is to provide advice on best practice in tackling unfair age discrimination at work. Following a period of consultation, the final version of the code is expected to be published during the first quarter of 1999. The Government's move follows the publication in August 1998 of a DfEE report proposing a non-statutory approach to combating age discrimination (UK9809148F), despite hopes on the part of trade unions and other groups that the Government would introduce legislation on the issue.

According to ministers, the code of practice will not only promote fair opportunities for individuals regardless of their age but will also help businesses to prepare themselves effectively for the labour market of the future. The government estimates that by 2000, more than 35% of the UK labour force will be aged over 45 and that this figure will increase to almost 40% by 2010. The Employers' Forum on Age, which includes many of the UK's leading companies and is chaired by former CBI director-general Howard Davies, claims that the macroeconomic costs of ageism to the UK economy amount to GBP 26 billion a year because of the economic inactivity of 3.7 million of the 9.3 million people aged 50 to 64 and the consequent loss of output and tax revenues.

The draft code covers recruitment, promotion, training, redundancy and retirement issues, and urges employers to treat staff according to ability, not age. This includes avoiding age limits or phrases such as "young graduates" in job advertisements, using mixed-age interviewing panels and considering job sharing or career breaks as an alternative to redundancy.

Trade unions and other campaigners against age discrimination regard the code as a step in the right direction, but argue that legislation will still be needed to bring about serious reform.

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