Israel Defends Age-based Retirement Law as Protecting Weaker Workers

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Scrapping the uniform retirement age for men and women would work to the disadvantage of weaker employees, the state claimed in response to a High Court petition challenging the current law.

Presently the retirement ages are 67 for men and 62 for women at 62. However, the law does allow workers to continue in work if their employers consent.

“A model involving uniform retirement [ages] better protects weaker workers who have no job security arrangements, and who, whether due to their professions or as a result of a certain devaluation of their positions, have concern that in the absence of a retirement age, their employment relationship would be terminated even sooner,” the state wrote in response to a petition seeking to scrap mandatory retirement ages.

The petitioners to the High Court of Justice claim, however, that age should not be a criterion at all by which employees are judged on their ability to perform their jobs.

The case was filed on behalf of three academics: Prof. Moshe Gavish, 66, from Technion − Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa; his colleague, Prof. Mordechai Segev; and Prof. ‏(emeritus‏) Asa Kasher from Tel Aviv University. Two other parties have joined the suit − emeritus law professor Ruth Ben-Israel of Tel Aviv University, and a nonprofit, the Association of Law in the Service of the Elderly. The attorney for the petitioners is Shoshana Gavish, the wife of Moshe Gavish.

“I refuse to have people relate to me as if I were second-class,” Ben-Israel said recently. “Israeli society has not yet come to grips with the demographic revolution that has occurred in the Western world. We must shift to retirement based on performance and not biological age.”

The state’s response to the petition addresses the two options’ different approaches when it comes to retirement age policy − either performance, as Ben-Israel would have it, or uniformity, based on an employee’s age. The state says each approach has its advantages and disadvantages, but contends that a performance-based policy would primarily benefit stronger and more economically well-off employees, and not work to the advantage of workers of weaker status.

Because employers can consent to have workers remain in employment, the state calls the use of the term “mandatory” in connection with the retirement age misleading. However, the state added that it is doubtful that a specific retirement age of 67 for men, “even if it involves a certain level of discrimination, rises to the level of infringement on human dignity.”

The state also related to the court’s precedent-setting decision last December in the case of Libby Weinberger, in which it ruled that the Bar-Ilan University employee could not automatically be forced to end her employment upon reaching retirement age, and that the employer must exercise discretion, looking at each individual retirement case on its merits.

The state cited the case as proof that even under existing law, employers and their workers can reach agreement on continued employment beyond the standard retirement age.

In response to the Weinberger case, the Civil Service Commission announced that it would entertain requests by public service employees to remain on the job beyond the regular retirement age if circumstances warranted it.

For her part, however, Shoshana Gavish said the state had chosen to defend forced retirement and in the process was missing an opportunity to join efforts to repeal what she says is a discriminatory retirement law. No hearing has yet been set for the petition, but it will apparently be scheduled for the next several months.

Not everyone wants to quit work on reaching retirement age. Credit: Reuters

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