Who said we were too old to work?

Patricia Feehily


Patricia Feehily

Who said we were too old to work?

WHAT’S all this about a ‘dynamic young workforce’ being the boast of every modern self-respecting Irish employer? I thought that kind of jaundiced language was outlawed 20 years ago when the Employment Equality Act brought an end to discrimination of any kind in the workplace.

Now, while the feminists are patrolling the gender front with talons at the ready, nobody, it seems, gives a toss about ageism anymore -certainly not the militant feminists who would start a revolution if an experienced middle-aged male got ahead of a dynamic twenty-something female in the modern workplace. All equality is relative, you know.

The thing is I’ve known many a dynamic dinosaur in my time and I’ve also met many a bright young worker who needed a stick of dynamite to get him or her started. There is no rule which says that ‘dynamic’ and ‘young’ make up a self-evident equation. Sometimes it can’t even be proved.

My first editor, when I entered journalism back in 1970, was 82. He had steered the Paper through the War of Independence, the Civil War, two World Wars and God only knows what else. If ever there was a dynamo, he was one, although he always maintained a quiet, self-effacing and dignified presence through every crisis that presented itself. When he died ten years later, not only were we left rudderless but we were distinctly conscious of the fact that the dynamo had gone out.

I can’t believe they’re still boasting about ‘dynamic young workforces’ and that they are still advertising posts for dynamic young self-starters. It’s so archaic and unoriginal that it makes me want to reach for the sick bag. It’s certainly not confined to the private sector either. A new school is opening in a certain part of the country shortly and they’re recruiting for new teachers. They’ve already got – yes, you’ve guessed it – a ‘dynamic young staff’ on the payroll, so presumably no dinosaurs need apply.

There are two aspects of this that irk me terribly. One, surely the most valuable teaching skills are only acquired by years of experience at the coal face and all the dynamism in the world can’t replace that? Two, the ‘dynamic young’ staff, even if they are over the age of 30, are more than likely under-paid teachers who, since 2011, have been denied pay parity with their older colleagues and continue to be paid less. In other words, they don’t cost as much.

But if the Department of Education has no objection to discriminatory inferences in recruitment advertisements and if it values dynamism and youth so highly, surely it should be forced to pay for the asset. Personally, I’d prefer to be old and decrepit with my dynamism in rapid decline than to be patronised and exploited like that.

Back at the turn of this century, when all those dynamic young people were mere toddlers, Ryanair advertised in a National Newspaper for a new director of regulatory affairs. “We need a young and dynamic professional,” the ad read. “The ideal candidate will be young and dynamic”.

Unfortunately for the airline, the Employment Equality Act had come into law just two years before this offensive advertisement appeared. That was before the gender war took over but it seems that we were all more conscious of different kinds of discrimination then, for Ryanair was promptly charged with a breach of the Act. The newspaper that carried the ad escaped censor after promising to implement in future a strict code of compliance with the law. The airline was fined £8,000 and the money was donated to organisations fighting ageism at the time. I don’t know what good that did for anyone, because employers are still blatantly looking for ‘dynamic young’ workers. Change the tune, for God’s sake.

Ryanair, by the way, raised a very interesting point in its own defence. It said that the advertisement did not refer to ‘young’ in age. No-where was age even mentioned. What they were looking for, they claimed, was a candidate who was ‘young in spirit’.

Now, that certainly does sound much more inclusive to me. For, aren’t we all young at heart? The trouble is how do you prove your youthful spirit and your undiminished dynamism when they look for your birth cert? Maybe it’s time they made that classified information in the interest of equality!