Trade unions and legal experts are joining in accusing government agencies of having older workers in the crosshairs when the agencies are looking for places to cut staff.
In a recent decision, Ligebehandlingsnævnet, the national equal rights agency, overturned the dismissal of two state employees in the state’s own employment office, Moderniseringsstyrelsen. Unions representing the two workers claimed that they had been let go entirely on the basis of their age, in violation of national employment laws. The decision will see the government pay 700,000 kroner in legal fees.
“It is unthinkable that the government expects people to retire later, while at the same time cutting staff in their own personnel office because of their age. That’s almost embarrassing,” Lars Qvistgaard, spokesperson for DJØF, a union representing lawyers and economists, told Politiken newspaper.
The union brought both suits and has filed ten more age discrimination cases against the Foreign Ministry and Skat, the national tax authority.
The union representing tax and customs employees, Dansk Told & Skatteforbund, has already won several cases of age discrimination. Rita Bundgaard, of the clerical union HK, is convinced that older workers are being discriminated against.
“When they need to cut, they almost automatically look at older workers first,” she told Politiken.
Per Jensen, a professor at Copenhagen Business School, described older workers as low hanging fruit when cuts need to be made.
“There are many older government employees with many years of service and high wages, so they are an expensive group of employees,” Jensen told Politiken. “The state also wants to get new blood into jobs, so that means it is often out with the old, in with the new.”
The public sector, according to Jensen, often sets the tone for the rest of the marketplace, and he said the practice of targeting older workers for layoffs could easily spread to other to the private sector.
“The state is an important role model in the labour market,” he said.
Per Clausen, spokesperson for far left party Enhedslisten called it “completely unacceptable” that the government gives older workers the boot based on their age.
“I want the finance minister to explain how it is that the government keeps losing these cases,” Clausen told Politiken. The rules cannot be that hard to understand.”
Clausen said that it is disingenuous of the state to constantly call for better treatment of senior workers and then target them when it needs to reduce its own workforce, especially when older workers often have a harder time finding a new job after they are let go.
The finance minister, Bjarne Corydon, declined to comment, while the head of human resources for Moderniseringsstyrelsen, Carsten Carlsen, said in a written statement said his agency had done nothing illegal in letting the two employees go and that dispute should be decided in court.