By Kayode Ketefe
In many countries today, notably United Kingdom and United States, the culture of age discrimination has been legally banned from the socio-economic life. Thus no employer, be it in public or private establishment, can discriminate against a job seeker or (even existing employees) solely on the basis of age.
In the United Kingdom, the law banning age discrimination in the workplace came into force on October 1, 2006 via The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 (“UK Age Regulations), while the United States has been having the law since 1967 through her Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). Australia passed its Age Discrimination Act in 2004.
Using the UK as an example, anybody under the age of 65 cannot be denied offer of job or forced to resign from existing employment on account of his/her age. Any deviation can result in liability in damages imposed by the Employment Tribunal or Employment Appeal Tribunal.
The rationale for this is the imperative to ensure that no artificial barrier is allowed to preponderate over merit which rarely has anything to do with age.
There is, of course, also the issue of human rights as it is believed that all kinds of discrimination run contrary to the principles of equity and that they promotes injustice. It is for these reasons that legislations have been used in the developed countries to dissuade the practices of ageism in all its varieties. It would be a great idea if the legislative machinery is also invoked to check practices of unconscionable age discrimination in our country.
The age-discrimination phenomenon is a two-way thing, combining biases against people adjudged to be “too old” and those reckoned “too young” and therefore unsuitable for certain offices or posts in spite of possession all the requisite attributes and qualifications. But the commonest form is the bias in against the older persons.
In Nigeria, the only forms of discrimination prohibited under the Constitution or any other statute are non-discrimination on the grounds of circumstances of birth, sex, ethnicity, religion, political opinion and allied matter; there is practically nothing that comes close to banning discrimination on age ground, hence the imperative of specific law on this issue like we have in other countries.
What you often encounter in job adverts in Nigerian newspapers with respect to person specification is a huge joke. For a great number of jobs, especially at the graduate entry level, age restrictions are arbitrarily inserted as a cogent condition delimiting the applicants’ suitability for the jobs.
However, when you go through the job descriptions specifying the roles to be performed, you would be surprised that the restriction always seems egregiously cosmetic, not having been dictated by pragmatic necessity.
This writer had seen adverts requesting for fresh graduates who had completed the national service and whose age did not exceed 24 years; pray, how many Nigerians leave the universities earlier than that? There is an ongoing ASUU strike wasting the times of innocent students and nobody reckons with that.
Even for the posts requiring experience, the length of experience required when taken with the age stipulation, would make the posts inapplicable to all except those privileged to graduate at early age.
The fact is that many human resources managers hardly bother about critically evaluating the job descriptions and person specifications with a view to form well-founded opinion on the basis of pure merit that is unencumbered by extraneous considerations. They just copy verbatim what other companies stipulate as criteria for such roles.
The advanced countries with anti-age discrimination laws have made enviable strides in social justice by creating a level-playing ground for all their capable citizenry at the workplace and make their private and public establishments “Equal opportunity employers”.
Ironically, Nigeria needs the law even more than these developed societies, given the peculiarities of our socio-political and economic system. It is in Nigeria that a student would go to university to study a four-year course and ends up spending seven years as a result of numerous strikes by varsity lecturers and forced recesses occasioned by students’ unrests.
It is in Nigeria that graduates would be searching frantically for jobs seven, nine and ten years after graduation without success.
Back in the university days, this writer knew a student who took no less than three annual “leaves of absence” alternately before he could complete a five- year course on accounts of impecuniosity. He had to go and work intermittently to pay his way out of the university.
This indigent scholar was desirous of having a good education in spite of all odds. Now, imagine the extent of frustration the fellow would feel, if upon graduation, he is denied job offers on account of having passed the “normal” employment age of fresh graduates. What a cruel system!
No wonder many Nigerians nowadays have two (or more) dates of birth! One is official age and the other biological. This is a kind of thing that happens when a society has a hypocritical approach of running her affairs – an approach that discounts its undeniable realities.
In conclusion, it is high time we thought of introducing anti-age discrimination law to attain social justice in the workplace.
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