The Brussels Office of the Bertelsmann Stiftung
Older Workers - Outlook and Opportunities
Can active ageing be successful – Yes it can!
On 6 December 2012 the Bertelsmann Stiftung and the European Policy Centre (EPC) presented the findings of their joint venture project „Creating Second Career Labour Markets – Towards more Employment Opportunities for Older Workers“ to the public and policy makers. In the framework of this high level conference a series of policy recommendations, aiming at a better labour market inclusion of older workers, was put to debate amongst a distinguished panel of experts.
Opening the conference Aart De Geus, CEO and Chairman of the Bertelsmann Stiftung, welcomed László Andor, EU-Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, for his keynote speech. Commissioner Andor emphasised that while dealing with the urgency of youth unemployment, the European Union also needs to address the issue of an increasingly ageing work force: "The demographic challenges of ageing apply in all member states and we have to continue dealing with them, in conjunction with all the stakeholders.” We have to work simultaneously on these problems now within the context of the European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between the Generations and beyond, he concluded.
In the following, Aart De Geus presented the findings of the project and pointed out that especially in times of crisis EU Member States are badly in need of growth and cannot afford to abandon the economic potential of older workers. He continued that in this regard governments play a critical role, as they set the legal incentives that enable older workers to better carry on with employment. Social partners and companies also had to take up their share of responsibilities for successful active ageing. Amongst the policy recommendations put forward in the project’s report, De Geus also highlighted the responsibility of the individual to adjust to the prospect of a prolonged working life: “We face a challenge to change a mind-set – to think differently," he said.
The conference continued with a panel discussion, chaired by Hans Martens, Chief Executive of the EPC, who was joined by Elsa Fornero, Italian Minister for Employment and Social Policy, Pervenche Berès, Member of the European Parliament, Juan Menéndez-Valdés, Director of the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions and Anne-Sophie Parent, Secretary General of AGE Platform Europe, a network of around 165 organisations of and for people aged 50+. Before passing on to the panel, Hans Martens emphasised that the project is not about forced labour in any way. “This is giving an offer to people to work longer and therefore also to stay out of support," Martens said. Minister Elsa Fornero declared that in the case of Italy it is not a question of focussing either on the younger or the older workers “by granting support to older worker, we do not take away jobs for the younger. This has proven to be a fallacy - in Italy and elsewhere”. The minister said that countries needed to change the formula providing incentives for early retirement and find innovative ways to combat the difficulties older workers face on the labour market. “I don't think there is a single answer. You never know if something will be effective. You have to try things out, be intellectually honest and not too ideological, modifying things that do not work to your expectations," she said.
Pervenche Berès said that there needed to be careful thought about how to tackle the issue of discrimination against older workers – what is required are "decent jobs for decent people.” She warned that while flexibility in continuing working was necessary, it could also be problematic, as low pensions or benefits could force older people to accept poor working conditions. "Most people want to work longer" declared Anne-Sophie Parent and added that several survey results show that there was not a problem of older people being reluctant to continue working. She further pointed out that removing legal or financial disincentives to working had to be accompanied by employers being willing to offer jobs. More quality jobs were needed, along with more support for older workers moving jobs.
Juan Menéndez-Valdés, stated that it was important to remove stereotypes about older people such as the thought that society did not expect them to work, that employers do not hire them, and that they themselves think that they are not useful anymore. He added that the issue for older workers is often not about mandatory or non-mandatory retirement ages or incentives to continue to work or retire earlier. “What has proven to be important for older workers are good working conditions and an appropriate level of flexibility they demand”.