Hypocrisy in the non-profit sector is particularly nauseating (for obvious reasons) but the United Nations may take the cake with its rule on mandatory retirement.
The U.N. General Assembly in 2015 adopted a resolution that will take effect on January 1, 2018 to raise its mandatory retirement age from 60 to 65.
In October 2016, the organization hired as its new leader António Guterres, who is 67.
Firstly, how can it be acceptable for an organization to force out perfectly competent workers on their 65th birthday but exempt the leadership of the organization? According to the U.N. resolution, a worker can continue to work after age 65 only in “exceptional circumstances” and “when it is in the interest of the Organization.”
Secondly, why age 65? That makes as much sense as age 60. It’s a arbitrary age. There is no basis to conclude that workers – especially office workers – suddenly decline at a particular age. Guterres is an example of the fact that aging is individualistic and depends on many factors that have nothing to do with a calendar.
Zero Discrimination Day – Except for Age Discrimination?
On March 1, the U.N. celebrated “Zero Discrimination Day,” which it says celebrates everyone’s right to live a full life with dignity regardless of age, gender, sexuality, nationality, ethnicity, skin color, height, weight, profession, education, and beliefs.
Maybe someone should tell the U.N. that mandatory retirement is a form of age discrimination. It was banned in the U.S. in 1967 under the U.S. Age Discrimination in Employment Act, except with respect to a few limited categories (ex. public safety workers, high ranking executives, elected officials, etc.). Presumably the United Nations is exempted from the ADEA through a treaty.
Few would argue that age discrimination is an irrational and harmful form of discrimination that effectively denies older workers the right to work. Possibly high paid staffers at the U.N. don’t need to earn money after age 65 but workers around the world do.
The mission of the UN is to promote and encourage “respect for human rights, and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.” It’s time for the U.N. to add age to its charter.
Guterres, by the way, was the Prime Minister of Portugal from 1995 to 2002, and was the Secretary-General of the Socialist Party from 1992 to 2002. He served as President of Socialist International from 1999 to 2005. The Socialist International, by the way, is committed to “the end of all discrimination against individuals.”
Most countries, including the U.S., are struggling to deal with aging in the workplace. Intellectually, we know ageism is wrong. However, there is a strong implicit bias against older workers that is based on fear of ill-health and death, animus fueled by ageist stereotypes, and competition between the generations for scare resources. Not to mention the fact that older workers tend to earn more and employers universally want to cut costs.
Nothing will change until supposedly enlightened employers and democracies accept the challenges of creating a truly diverse and nondiscriminatory workplace.
If a worker can still do the job, he or she should not be ousted because of age discrimination. If a worker cannot do the job, he or she should be treated the same as any other worker who can’t do the job. No worker has a right to work if they cannot do the job but all workers should have a right to be treated fairly.