'Older' workers in Holland facing age discrimination

5th December 2007, Comments 0 comments

Mid-career professionals aged 45 and up continue to face discrimination in the Dutch work force. We look at the evidence.

No evidence that older workers
are off sick more often.

Discrimination based on ethnicity, race, sexual orientation or religion occurs frequently in the Netherlands and usually makes headlines.

But increasingly prevalent, and less talked about, is a discrimination that mid-career professionals aged 45 and up continue to face in the country's work force - age discrimination.

Of the 694 complaints of discrimination submitted to the Dutch Committee for Equal Treatment (CGB) in 2006, 219 dealt exclusively with discrimination on the basis of age.

According to the CGB, an independent organization, this is just the tip of the iceberg: the real numbers are assumed to be much higher.

Older employees tend to be less likely to be promoted or invited for job interviews, even when their resume are similar or better to younger candidates, according to a recent CGB report.

In addition, companies that are forced to reorganise usually prefer to fire older employees first. Older employees are also the least likely to be offered outplacement programmes that help make a quick transfer to a different company.

"Colleagues less qualified than I am, could stay, while I had to go," says 47-year old Jan Eik, a former food engineer at a Netherlands-based international nutrition company, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA).

After more than 15 years of loyal service, the department at the company in which he worked merged with another. Most staff members were fired.

"I received financial compensation, but I would rather have participated in the outplacement projects that were offered to my younger colleagues," he says.

Six months after being let go, he is still registered at the Dutch government's unemployment agency CWI. The CWI helps people return to the workforce and provides monthly stipends to those who qualify under law.

"I have written more than 150 application letters but I have not been invited even once," says Eik, who holds a university degree.

CWI statistics show that more than six out of 10 people registered as unemployed are aged 40 or older; two out of 10 are older than 52.

In 2004, the parliament accepted a law prohibiting age discrimination. This year, 2007, marked a special year of symposia about age discrimination.

Unions, employers' organisations and interest groups for people aged 50 and older agreed to meet seven times at special symposia focusing entirely on how to reduce age discrimination.

In addition, employers' organisations, unions and the ministry of social affairs convened in June at a special summit geared towards increased participation of who is officially labelled as "senior employees."

But despite the good intentions, including official government policies encouraging increased participation of people aged 45 and up in the work force, age discrimination in the work force becomes more prevalent.

"People are considered old these days after turning 45," Paulus Plas, spokesman for FNV, the biggest Dutch union, told dpa.

"Several years ago we asked the Royal University of Utrecht to investigate the prevalence and scope of age discrimination in the workplace. The findings of that study were shocking."

"It is true that older employees are more expensive. But companies are motivated also by a number of presumptions that do not have a firm basis," says Plas.

"They think older employees are less flexible and less productive. They say older employees are ill more frequently. Several social studies have demonstrated this to be not true, yet the prejudice remains."

Despite the many ongoing projects to fight age discrimination, Plas says FNV remains sceptic about the future.

"Last June's summit brought to the surface the many difficulties companies encounter convincing their management to hire older employees offer them equal opportunities."

Insiders say only economic need will end age discrimination. In the next 10 years, the baby boomers - those born in the two decades following World War II - will retire. All are entitled to monthly pensions from the government.

This will require a larger work force - which can only be realized if companies decide to retain their senior professionals.

12 October 2007

[Copyright DPA]


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