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Call to keep Bermudians in work beyond 65

Pension Commissioner Peter Sousa

Addressing age discrimination — including mandatory retirement — could potentially benefit more than just seniors according to Peter Sousa of the Pension Commission

Speaking in a panel discussion on the subject of age discrimination at Bermuda College, Mr Sousa suggested that rather than holding onto the mandatory retirement age of 65 ,a plan could be developed that keeps Bermudians in the workplace longer and better supports the pension system.

Emphasising that he was not speaking on behalf of the Pension Commission, he said: “Many, many overseas jurisdictions are moving away from 65. I think many for financial reasons. It actually helps to enhance the funding of the solvency of their significantly underfunded pension plans.

“We have all read stories and the SAGE commission and others have pined about the state of our pension plans, but this is a way to provide some relief in a way that could potentially deal with the thorny issue of age discrimination, but it’s not something that can happen overnight.

“The financial benefit is something we need to look at and I think provides more justification than just the issue of discrimination alone.”

Mr Sousa argued that allowing civil servants to remain in the workforce longer would increase the amount they put into the pension fund and decrease the time they spend taking out of it. Attendees were told that while the Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on age when it comes to providing premises or goods and services, it falls short of protecting against discrimination in the workplace.

Ben Adamson, lawyer at Conyers Dill & Pearman, said the situation was “unusual and slightly illogical”, adding: “You could not imagine being allowed to discriminate based on gender in one area but not another. Here we have an act that allows people to discriminate in employment.

“There is obviously concern about making it a fully protected ground.”

He also noted that there is a legal distinction between age and the effects of age, saying there is a difference between discrimination on someone due to their age and the person being unable to perform their job due to their age.

“If you discriminate just because they are old and you presume they cannot perform their duty, such as lifting, that is discrimination,” he said.

Bert McPhee, a practising physician at the age of 90, meanwhile said that while everyone ages, the impact of age is different for everyone.

“Ageing is an individual thing. A typical elder does not exist,” he said. “There is a public perception that comes out of some phrases, such as an older person being refered to as ‘over the hill’. Merely because a person reaches a certain age doesn’t justify that sort of thing.”