Voluntary code of practice on age discrimination proposed

Social partner organisations have welcomed the UK Government's February 1998 proposals for a code of practice to end age discrimination, though for some an announcement of forthcoming legislation would have been more appropriate.

In February 1998, it was announced that the Government is to draw up a voluntary code on combating age discrimination in recruitment. The statement came as the charity, Age Concern, launched an "Age discrimination awareness campaign". A survey conducted for Age Concern estimates that more than 18 million adults have experienced age discrimination in employment, health or welfare. The study found that 70% of the population believe age discrimination exists, while only half of those who reported it were aged over 45, showing that it is a problem that affects most ages.

According to the employment minister, Andrew Smith: "The Government is proposing to draw up a code of practice in consultation with the CBI, the TUC, the Employers Forum on Age, Age Concern and others. This code of practice will have at its heart the aim of promoting fair recruitment practices, particularly for older people both in work and looking for work."

Age Concern and the Trades Union Congress (TUC), welcomed the Government's announcement but were clearly disappointed that the proposal was for voluntary action. Both see legislation as an essential element of ending age discrimination. John Monks, the TUC general secretary, said that: "We have no wish to see all aspects of the employment relationship regulated by legislation. But in the case of age discrimination we consider that legislation similar to the race and sex discrimination laws would be helpful in changing attitudes." Sally Greengross, director of Age Concern, stated that "age discrimination is a national shame and should be outlawed." The Institute of Personnel and Development (IPD), representing personnel professionals, supports a voluntary code of practice, stating that it is best to give self-regulation a chance before reaching for the statute book. However, IPD warns that if employers fail to take voluntary action after a code of practice is introduced, they should not be surprised if legislation follows.

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