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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

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OAS changes could harm older workers: prof

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Ellie Berger

Increasing the eligibility age for Canada’s Old Age Security Pension (OAS) to 67 could harm older workers, says a Nipissing University sociology professor.

“Forcing older workers to remain in the workforce longer may serve to heighten the discrimination they already face,” Ellie Berger, 38, said in a recent interview.

Berger, currently on a year-long sabbatical from the North Bay university, added that the change is good in that it gives people the choice to work longer, “but it puts monetary pressure on employers. They will have to pay benefits for two more years. ”

The change will be hardest for low-income Canadians or those in poor health who anticipated retiring and receiving benefits at age 65, she said.

Berger recently co-wrote a brief published by the Population Change and Lifecourse Strategic Knowledge Cluster, which found that when it comes to age discrimination and paid work, there are many areas that require improvement.

 Ageism exists, the brief states, in employer attitudes, which is evident when older workers are unemployed and seeking work – “when they’re on the outside trying to get in.”

Berger, who is currently writing a book about ageism in the workplace, said older women looking for work are particularly discriminated against.

“After age 45, they begin to feel discrimination, and if the job is physically demanding, the age discrimination is felt earlier. ”

In her interviews for the book, she’s spoken to employers who had positive things to say about older workers, “but discrimination comes out in day-to-day [hiring] practices,” she said.

“They’ll say they want a younger person behind a counter, or claim that the organization’s culture is more junior. [Such ageism] is illegal, but it’s difficult to prove.”

In reality, Berger said, research shows that older workers are more loyal than their younger counterparts. They’re also more positive, have more knowledge and learn new skills just as quickly.

Employers need to be educated about ageist attitudes and practices, particularly as they relate to the hiring, training and retention of older workers, she said.

Berger was a judge on a recent panel that awarded four companies across Canada a “Best Employers Award for 50-plus Canadians.” The judging took place during the seventh annual Summit on the Mature Workplace.

The winners were AltaGas, Seven Oaks General Hospital in Winnipeg, Walmart Canada and Bethany Care Society, one of western Canada’s largest not-for-profit providers of health, housing and support for seniors and people with disabilities.

“In our judging, we looked at organizational practices that encourage the hiring and retention of older workers. Too few companies have ageist-free policies.”

These policies include a mentoring program in which older and younger workers are paired up, she said.

Berger, who took a gerontology course while an undergraduate at McMaster University, said her interest in the subject came from her close relationship with her grandparents. “That bond pulled me in this direction.”

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