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Vol 38  No 13
April 27, 2006


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Challenging mandatory retirement

By Dr. Robert Adamec

What do racism, sexism and ageism have in common? They are all recognized forms of discrimination under the human rights codes of Canada and its provinces. It is also recognized in five provinces and three territories that mandatory retirement constitutes a form of discrimination on the basis of age and therefore is not allowed. Mandatory retirement has been characterized by a Canadian Supreme Court justice as a form of forced dismissal without (just) cause.

Why then does mandatory retirement continue to exist at enlightened institutions such as Memorial University? In this regard it is of interest that mandatory retirement does not exist in the United States, having been abolished in 1993. Nor is there mandatory retirement in the Canadian government. Moreover, mandatory retirement does not exist in a number of Canadian universities (notably the University of Toronto and McGill University).

Mandatory retirement does continue in Canada, but that depends on the location. It exists as an exemption of the charter of rights under legislation and/or pension considerations in: British Columbia, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador. In this province if a pension plan does not require retirement, a complaint under the charter against forced retirement may be made until age 65, but not thereafter.

Mandatory retirement has been justified on socio-economic grounds, and in part involves a judgment that mandatory retirement is required to protect the livelihoods of younger Canadians entering the workforce as well as the assumption of diminished capacity with aging. If these considerations have merit, is it socially responsible to challenge mandatory retirement? I and a growing number of colleagues believe it is both correct and socially responsible to challenge mandatory retirement at Memorial and in Newfoundland and Labrador.

It is correct to challenge forced retirement on the grounds that it discriminates on the basis of age and sex. Discrimination on the basis of sex is included because there is a good deal of evidence that women in particular are disadvantaged by mandatory retirement. This is because of later starts to the careers of women, often after attending to family obligations. Late career starts result in working fewer pensionable years which leads to substandard pension compensation for women.

It is correct to challenge mandatory retirement on mental and physical health grounds, as well. Recent studies have shown that forced as opposed to voluntary retirement impacts mental health and longevity very differently. Voluntary retirees live longer and are mentally and physically healthier than those forced to retire when they have no wish to stop working.

It is socially responsible on the grounds of the need and value of continued contribution of a generation that is changing the face of aging. The “stereotypical” 65-year-old retiree was a male who died shortly after retirement and was likely ill at the time of retirement. Both medical and lifestyle advances have changed the way people age. Many aging North Americans remain intellectually and physically active and productive into their 70s and even 80s. Instead of viewing our aging work force as a burden to society, the wealth of years of experience and continued productivity ought to be nurtured and used for the benefit of our societal institutions.

It is socially responsible on the grounds that the feared negative outcomes of stopping mandatory retirement in institutions such as universities are not realized. This statement is based on experience from 1993 to the present in the United States (MacGregor in Time’s Up, 2005).

Among these feared negative outcomes are the concern that productivity will decrease and costs will rise as less competent aging workers continue in their jobs. This has been a particular concern for universities with the specter of expensive senior faculty with diminished capacity for teaching and research. Experience teaches that the average age of retirement rises to 67 at the removal of mandatory retirement and then settles back to 63 years of age. So prolonged and expensive rises in salary budgets are unlikely. Experience also teaches that those opting to continue working are among the most dedicated and competent teachers, researchers and workers. They like what they do and do it well.

Another fear is that tenure review will become a necessity to ensure competence of aging faculty, but will have to be applied to all faculty to avoid age discrimination. Tenure review cannot be instituted if tenure is to continue to protect academic freedom, however. There are other models permitting extended service that could respect both the human rights of working people, academic freedom in universities, and bona fide organizational requirements. These may be found at Canadian institutions which have abolished mandatory retirement.

Forced or mandatory retirement violates the human rights of our aging population. It dismisses years of experience and the right to continue working at jobs people value, and from which they derive a sense of purpose and self esteem. We would not condone dismissal without cause in our younger faculty. For all of the reasons just given, we should not condone dismissal without cause in our aging faculty. It is time to find a way to continue to benefit from the efforts of our aging faculty who wish to work beyond age 65, while respecting the needs and future of

Memorial University. There is a way to do this, and there are examples at other institutions to inspire a solution. I urge the university community to join in a constructive effort to eliminate mandatory retirement at Memorial and within the province.

Dr. Robert Adamec is a university research professor and CIHR senior investigator in the Department of Psychology. The Gazette welcomes letters to the editor on this topic. E-mail gazette@mun.ca.

Dr. Robert Adamec is a university research professor and CIHR senior investigator in the Department of Psychology. The Gazette welcomes letters to the editor on this topic. E-mail gazette@mun.ca.

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