Unfair treatment of older people in the labour market

A research study has looked at employment among people aged 50+ in Slovakia. It looked at the possibility of creating a national programme for ‘active ageing’. The study focused on opportunities for finding employment among people aged 50+. It sought opinions of people aged between 50 and 64, as well as employers and representatives of the trade unions. It provides an analysis of results from three surveys commissioned by the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family.

Background

In December 2013, the Slovak Republic Government launched the National Programme of Active Ageing for 2014–2020 (in Slovak, 1.3 MB PDF). Its aim was to tackle the problem of the country’s ageing population and make the complex issue of ‘active ageing’ a political priority. While the programme was being prepared between 2012 and 2013, several research studies and surveys were carried out to map the ‘active ageing’ situation.

Labour market participation

One study, ‘Analysis of exogenous and endogenous factors affecting participation of elderly people in the labour market’, was compiled by a range of authors in May 2013 as part of the framework of the National strategy for active ageing project (in Slovak, 5.73 MB PDF). It was financed from the European Social Fund and was commissioned by the training centre at the Slovakian Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family (MPSVR).

The study consists of two parts. The first, Opportunities for employment of people aged 50+ in the labour market, provides analysis of results of three sociological studies in the area of ageing:

  • a representative survey of 1,003 respondents aged 50–64, where the selection criteria was gender, age, education, nationality, size of respondents’ community and region;
  • a survey of 300 representatives of companies with more than 20 employees where the selection criteria was company size (by number of employees), sector of business activity and region;
  • in-depth interviews with five representatives of selected employer organisations and with five representatives of selected trade unions operating in central and eastern Slovakia.

The second part of the study, ‘The economic context of selected factors and policies affecting the employment of elderly people and their old-age retirement’, processed and analysed statistical data from domestic and foreign sources.

Main findings

The findings showed the Slovak public considers elderly people as a disadvantaged social group, particularly in the labour market. People aged 50–64 are considered the most significantly disadvantaged age group. Just over half (51%) of respondents felt people in this age group were unfairly treated and discriminated against in the labour market. Of particular importance, said respondents, was that older people were not treated fairly in recruitment or job dismissals. They said older people had lower occupational protection, and employers were reluctant to employ older people either permanently or full-time. They also said older people were asked to perform so-called ‘precarious jobs’.

There is a general conviction among the public that there is significant age discrimination in Slovakia, based upon ‘direct or mediated experience’. Around 83% of respondents from the general public representative sample said they thought people in Slovakia are ‘often’ disadvantaged or discriminated against in the labour market if they are older. Employers are also concerned about age discrimination. The survey showed 63% acknowledged it was a factor in the labour market; 27% believed age discrimination happens ‘very often’ and 36% ‘quite often’.

The second most common reason for discrimination in the labour market is disability. This was considered a problem by 71% of the representative sample respondents, who said it happens ‘often’ or ‘fairly often’.

The majority of both the group aged 50–64 (71%) and representatives of employer organisations (76%) agree with the statement that ‘many elderly workers have qualities which are important for a modern workplace and implementation of an organisation’s goals’.

An age-sensitive approach that might take into account the age of employees and to provide working conditions appropriate to the needs of different age groups did not have strong support among the survey sample. Only a quarter of the representative sample aged 50–64 and a fifth of the employers agreed with this type of approach.

Commentary

Both surveys – the representative sample of the population aged 50–64 years and of the employers – showed a relatively high degree of belief in the existence of unfair treatment in the Slovak labour market. Even so, employers had less critical opinions, believing that discrimination was less frequent.

The belief that elderly people have fewer opportunities in the labour market seems to be widespread among the general public. The perception is that generally employers have an approach to recruitment which leans heavily on negative stereotypes.

Employers, however, say the attractiveness of workers to a company significantly decreases with their increasing age. An extremely important finding is that employers’ perception of ‘older’ includes the 50–54 age group, and this shows clear evidence of negative age stereotypes among employers.

Miroslava Kordošová, Institute for Labour and Family Research

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