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Saturday, March 29, 2014

The End of Mandatory Retirement in British Columbia

Intergenerational Equity Politics:[1]
A presentation by me.

  Keep in mind that Mandatory Retirement was abolished from Canada some years ago.

      According to Michael Ignatieff,  “ Rights represent our attempt to give meaning to values we most care about---dignity, equality, and respect.[2]   While Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedom originally focused on the importance of group equality, in respect to limited resources, current political climate favors protection of personal choices and “… the personal is rapidly becoming political as a major shift in the workforce looms.”[3]
         The conflict over the control of limited resources has a long history.  In the distant past, it appears that the elderly were particularly vulnerable in cultures that placed high values on youth and strength.  In a modern example of a similar relationship, the Supreme Court of Canada once supported the argument that mandatory retirement was essential in Universities so that they could have access to new thinking generated by a younger generation faculty. Another example is that individuals over the age of 65, in British Columbia at least, had little or no protection under the civil rights legislation.
         The tension between generations is framed as a “generational equity debate.” This debate was focused on questions about whether or not seniors were consuming valuable government resources at the expense of future generations.  Ellen Gee referred this as “Apocalyptic Demography “[4] In the context of work this could describe seniors as holding on to valuable positions at the expense of their juniors.

      Tension between generations is a natural process. The young are more often ready to change, and encourage older workers to rethink their positions, while seniors raise important questions using the wisdom of their experience.  If there is a healthy tension and open discussion both can be changed by the process.
         Intergenerational relations became increasingly tense as the younger looked into the future of their earning capacity and the use of society’s resources.  They wanted to get as far as they could and have security for themselves in old age.  Many of them believed that they would not reach their parents standard of living.  At the same time it could not be automatically assumed that older workers had adequate cushions, if and when the retired and people over 65 had few rights.  Both “sides” were fuelled by the fear that they would be short charged.
         The value involved in this debate expressed as. “What does one generation owe the next?” It is one of intergeneration reciprocity. At its core, the generational equity debate appears to be about winners and losers.  It assumes the relationships can never be balanced; that the debate is really battle.
         Women have a special interest in this debate.  In 1950 women constituted only 20% of the workforce in Canada.  By 2005 they reached 46%  (I couldn’t find any 2014 data).  They also have less traditional career paths than men.  On the average, they start later, drop out for family care reasons most frequently and, because they live longer, over the length of their retirement they get smaller pension benefits.
       On the other side, ending the obligation to retire at 65 was thought to lead to stronger valuation and forced departure at an earlier age.  This could be unsettling to younger workers.
          Recent Immigrants may face similar problems.  Many arrive in Canada as middle aged or older adults. The time it would take to reach Mandatory Retirement might not allow to time to build a pension fund, especially since many of them faced lower wages than their Canadian counterparts.
         Betty Freman has reported that mandatory retirement was initiated in the U.S. during the Great Depression of the 1930’s, because the elimination of older workers created positions for younger employees, this suggests that from the beginning mandatory retirement was about corporate succession planning.

         Retirement in Canada emerged gradually as an effect of industrialization.  According to Snell[5], retirement increased greatly with the introduction with the Old Age Security Act of 1951 and as firms became bigger and less able to meet the needs of older workers.  Also, senior workers had moved to the top of the ladder and management required a cut of point to expenses.  The arbitrary point of 65 was determined to be that point.
         As mandatory retirement slipped in Northcot reported it and Millken indicated that “…many British Columbia employers have a policy of mandatory retirement linked to their pension plans.  In addition, Section 13 of British Columbia’s Human Rights Code states that age is a characteristic that cannot be used to refuse the continuation of employment.   In Section 3 of the code however, this age discrimination stipulations referred to pension or employee insurance plans.  Further, the Charter allows “discrimination” under certain circumstances:” While things are not perfect they are better than they were.
         The primary purpose of this essay was to explore the some of the major generalization equity issues involved in post secondary teaching; the problem of an “aging academic work force” 
         When I retired from the Psychology Dept at Kwantlen Polytechnic University I had reached the age of 72; after mandatory retirement had been eliminated.


[1]    This article was never published.  I sent it around but no one was interested.  Or perhaps it just wasn’t good enough. Now that I have my own blog, I have decided to bring it into public.   I will be very interested it some of you have something to say.
[2] Ignatieff, (2000) , The Rights revolution, House of Anasi Press.
[3] For more on historical accounts in generational conflict see “Framing the generational equity debate, Williams J. B., Watts-Roy, D.M. & Kingston Eds Columbia University Press, 1999.
[4] In the “overselling of Population Aging” Ellen Gee. & Gloria Gutman  Eds In Oxford University Press
[5]  Snell, J.C.  The Citizen’s wage: The State and the Elderly in Canada, 1900-1951 Vol. 22 p.286

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