Sunday, October 01, 2006


As is usual with "anti-discrimination" laws, it ignores real differences and thus creates real problems

Laws banning age discrimination could backfire and end up damaging the job prospects of older workers, leading lawyers have warned ministers. They claim that the new rules make it significantly more costly and complex for companies to keep workers on over the age of 65 and many will choose to let them retire rather than risk legal wrangles. Age discrimination becomes illegal from tomorrow under the most sweeping reforms to employment law for 30 years. Companies will no longer be able to use terms such as “young” or “experienced” in recruitment adverts and all staff will be entitled to equal access to training and promotion.

There will still be a retirement age of 65 when most staff leave work for good, and companies will still be able to extend employment of their workers beyond that age. However, from tomorrow all staff must be treated equally, regardless of age, and the over-65s will be entitled to the same benefits, such as health cover and life insurance, as other workers. Employers are likely to face a legal minefield when they eventually want their over-65s to retire, a process that could take up to 12 months. Under the old regulations, companies could agree special terms with staff aged over 65. That typically meant an end to health insurance and a three-month notice period when either side wanted the agreement to end.

Simon Malcolm, partner at the City law firm Lawrence Graham, said that he was advising companies to let all their staff retire at 65. “Our advice is that it is almost certainly going to be easier to refuse requests from employees to work beyond 65 to avoid additional cost and complexity. Benefits such as health insurance are significantly more expensive for those over 65, but must be offered to everyone. And there is no simple way to get staff to retire once you have agreed to let them work beyond 65,” he said. More and more people want to carry on working beyond 65 and until now companies were often happy to oblige, he said. “But I think many people approaching 65 who want to carry on working to build up their pension are going to be in for a nasty surprise when they realise that their employer will not want to take the risk of keeping them on.”

Saga, which provides services for the over-50s, agrees and claims that workers as young as 50 could also suffer. This year, it planned to introduce a recruitment service for older workers, who typically find it more difficult to get jobs. Employers said that they were so worried about being sued for discriminating against young workers that they would not use it, so the plans were abandoned. “We are bringing these unintended consequences to the attention of the Government because we believe its objective of getting one million more people over 50 back into work can only be achieved by having special programmes designed to help them,” Tim Bull, marketing director of Saga, said.



Cabdriver Muhamed Mursal doesn't wear his Muslim beliefs on his sleeve, but he may soon broadcast them from a light atop his cab. Mursal and hundreds of other Muslim cabdrivers at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport refuse to take customers they know are carrying alcohol. They don't search bags, but a wine box may be enough to leave a fare waiting for the next cab.

Now, they may be required to buy different colored lights to sit atop their cabs so airport workers who hook up travelers with taxis can steer alcohol-carrying fares to cabs that will take them. The proposal needs approval from the airport's taxi cab advisory committee, and airport officials hope to have the lights ready by year's end. Cabbies without the light who refuse fares will be sent to the back of line - often a three-hour wait until it's their turn again for a fare. Some drivers said they'd rather wait for another fare than risk punishment in the afterlife. ``It is forbidden in Islam to carry alcohol,'' Mursal said.

Airport spokesman Pat Hogan said the first refusals to carry alcohol began 10 years ago, but came from just a handful of drivers. Now, though, he estimates that three-quarters of the 900 airport cabdrivers are Somali, most of them Muslim. Hogan said drunken passengers haven't had trouble getting a cab, just the ones who let on that they're carrying a bottle. He said, ``It's slowly grown over the years to the point that it's become a significant customer service issue for us.'' Hogan said he hasn't heard of any other airports where it has been an issue.

Some travelers were taken aback with the idea that they might be refused a ride. ``They're really kind of imparting their religious views on the public,'' said Katie Patterson of McKinley, Texas. ``I can understand if somebody's drunk; that's a whole different issue. But to just bring in a closed container, maybe you should look for other work.''


"Modern" women have turned the men off

An Australian perspective

Australia should be mourning the passing of its hard-drinking, tough, sexist men, according to Mark Latham. "One of the saddest things in my lifetime has been the decline in Australian male culture, the loss of our larrikin language and values," the former Labor Leader writes in his new book. "Mates and good blokes have been replaced by nervous wrecks, metrosexuals and nerds."

No, Mark. You've got it all wrong. It's the women, not the men, who've changed. And if your average Aussie male has become a bit more retiring, a bit less interested in women, beer and barbecues, then it's the sheilas [women] and political correctness that are to blame.

Take, for example, the new ruling announced this week by Cricket Australia making it an offence to call an English person a "whingeing Pom" (although Pom by itself is still acceptable). It removes at a stroke what Australian men consider as their right to denigrate males of all other nationalities.

Add to that the growth of feisty, independent, well-educated and ambitious women prepared to postpone marriage and children to pursue a career and it's no wonder that your traditional Australian male feels unwanted. Some are even opting for marriages with Thai and Filipina woman, traditionally and on the surface at least, seen as more submissive. Unable to relate to the new, liberated Australian woman, such marriages have increased fourfold in the past decade. As a result, more Australian women are living alone - up 20 per cent in six years - and they now outnumber men living alone.

The combination of more available women than men, an increase in the number of gay men and shorter marriages mean that eligible men are now in short supply. Thousands of women are said to have emigrated in search of a mate. Visitors have been quick to notice the change. "Dateless and desperate," said the English writer, Kathy Gyngell, about her Australian cousins. "The fact is that they are, to a woman, single and most of them haven't had a decent relationship in years."

A sign of how the sex roles have dramatically reversed are the "ladies only" functions at which professional male strippers perform. These often become rowdy. Geoffrey Martin, a 19-year-old "bottomless waiter", was serving drinks at a ladies-only corporate party in Brisbane, wearing underpants under a long shirt, when some of the women ripped his briefs off. "When the ladies get a couple of drinks into them, they start getting stroppy," he said. "The other two waiters had their undies on, but the ladies ripped mine off me. "Normally you can get them back after a while but they have very funny ways of hiding them. They could be in a handbag or down someone's cleavage. Nothing really bad happens, it's just a lot of fun. If the sheilas can do it, why not blokes?"

Many men blame what has happened on anti-discrimination legislation as a result of women seeking equality in the workplace. The battle for parity for women at BHP in Port Kembla in 1980 proved crucial. In that year, to everyone's amazement, some women working in offices, the canteen or as cleaners applied for jobs as steelworkers. BHP rejected them but the women fought their case in court and won. Each was awarded about $30,000 compensation for lost earnings. The case became a landmark in the struggle by all women for equal opportunity and their ranks in the workforce steadily grew. By the end of the 1990s women sat on the boards of big corporations and managed motherhood at the same time.

A male director of a leading bank revealed, as an example of its liberal attitude, how a woman director had breastfed her infant throughout a board meeting and accidentally squirted milk on his tie. The 1990s also ushered in women pilots in the RAAF; two women state premiers, Victoria's Joan Kirner and West Australia's Carmen Lawrence, and the first female state governor, South Australia's Dame Roma Mitchell.

What were the effects of these changes? It is 2006 and a Friday night at a singles bar in North Sydney. The place is full of well-paid young men and women in their late 20s and early 30s. Listen to the men's chatter and you hear things that would make the traditional male cringe. "It's all too hard," sighs David Smith, a 27-year-old who has not had a relationship for three years. As far as he is concerned, the effort involved in finding out if he is compatible with a woman is just not worth it.

James Cunningham, 28, is not interested. "It's just too difficult to go up and approach a girl. There are too many risks." "All changed," says an older man who is just sightseeing. "Everything is being shaken up. No one knows where they're at. The old Aussie ideal of a lifelong marriage between a tough man and a loving, submissive woman has gone, and no one's yet worked out what to replace it with." Any suggestions, Germaine Greer?


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