Freedom 55…65…75…Desire to work is only part of the story

Amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act enacted this December end mandatory retirement at a specific age. The new provisions, which come into force December 2012, give most federally regulated workers the same right to continue working as workers governed by most provincial employment legislation.

While the right to continue working beyond age 65 is welcome, this right is not without its problems. It is important not to think of all seniors as a homogenous group. Some will welcome the opportunity to continue current employment. Some will feel pressured to continue. Some have no desire to stay another day.

Desire to work is only part of the story. If you have a job you enjoy that includes a benefits  package and you have the health and energy to continue, you might well want to continue working full time.  But what if you decide to work part time? You might lose pension or health benefits. And changing jobs or careers? Maybe. But as many mid-lifers have found out, employers are reluctant to hire anyone more than halfway through their working life. Older workers who become unemployed remain unemployed longer than younger workers. If you remain unemployed for six months, you’ll have to work for four years for your wages to catch up.

This is especially significant for mid-life and older women who are often the ones who interrupt their work history with caretaking duties. And this after being more likely to have worked in lower paying occupations and more likely to have worked at part time or contractual jobs.

To add to the difficulty of all mid-lifers who need or want to find re-training, there are now fewer opportunities to do so. Specific programs for mid-life workers are diminishing even though the total number of re-training programs in some jurisdictions is increasing.
 Another problem is the lost pension funds for many of those who have relied on RRSPs for a substantial portion of their retirement income since the financial downturn. Widowed or divorced women who relied in whole or in part on their spouses’ pension often find that they need to return to the workforce.

As well, after deciding to return to work,  ageing means the print has gotten smaller, the knees and feet rebel at long periods of standing — the list goes on. While it may be possible to get workplace changes to accommodate these needs, will an employer be eager to make these accommodations for a “new” older worker?

Increasingly there is another group of mid-lifers, especially women, who’ve found themselves unable to find work or unable to find work with sufficient wages to live one and who are living on the savings that were supposed to be for retirement or “borrowing” from children — or parents. And in some cases, “couch surfing” with friends or family.
Being allowed to continue working is welcome. Needing to continue working, not so welcome. Then there are the senior workers who can’t find work. The fewer opportunities for retraining, bodies that are increasingly stressed and inadequate government and private pensions mean mid-life workers with fewer work and retirement choices.

A totally revamped CPP would make it easier for mid-life workers to return to work after interruptions and for older workers to retire when they choose.

Mary Hynes, Older Women’s Network