Is Extending Working Life the Best Response to Population Ageing?

Image: britannica.com

A stakeholders’policy workshop was held yesterday (24 January 2018) on the highly topical issue of Extended Working Life policy, at the NUI in Dublin. The event involved a presentation of preliminary policy-relevant findings from the EU-funded project, Gender, Older Workers and the Life-course, by project leader Dr Áine Ní Léime of NUI Galway.

Extended Working Life policies and pension reforms have been strongly promoted by international policy bodies as a response to population ageing, and its anticipated increased pension costs. Such policies in Ireland include raising the state pension age to 67 by 2021, and 68 by 2028, doubling the number of contributions required to be eligible for a full state contributory pension, and basing the state pension on average earnings over the working life.

Dr Áine Ní Léime from the Irish Centre for Social Gerontology at NUI Galway, commented:

“These policies have been introduced without adequately exploring the consequences for different groups of workers, particularly women. Not all workers are the same. Workers in precarious employment may be especially disadvantaged. One-size-fits-all pension policies for all workers, which are beneficial for those who are healthy and can easily find employment, may be punitive for those in ill-health and/or those in physically demanding jobs.”

Gender, Older Workers and the Life-course is an international project, aiming to inform policy by drawing on the experiences and voices of older workers themselves. For the Irish component of the project, interviews were conducted with 30 men and 30 women (cleaners, carers, teachers and academics) on their work-life history, their attitudes towards pensions, and their views on extended working life policy.

Dr Áine Ní Léime presented preliminary findings from Ireland from this research at the workshop, which was moderated by Dr Nata Duvvury, Director of the Centre for Global Women’s Studies at NUI Galway.

The key findings from the research include:

  • Workers in physically-demanding/stressful jobs should be able to retire at 66 on state pension.
  • Working past age 66 should be a choice – full pension should be available to those who qualify.
  • The non-contributory pension is absolutely critical for women especially and should be enhanced.
  • The issue of precarious work, low pay and pension entitlements needs to be addressed for certain workers.

Orla O’Connor, CEO of the National Women’s Council of Ireland commented:

“This research is  very welcome and timely given current public debates calling for reform of the State pension system which currently disregards the reality of women’s working lives. Women are more likely to be in low paid-jobs with precarious contracts and to take extended periods of time out of work to care for children or other family members. They therefore have fewer social insurance contributions and are penalised by the pension system in older age.”

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