From the age of labor to the labor of age

Thu Mar 25, 2010 8:53am EDT
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By Sara Ledwith and Sophie Taylor

LONDON/PARIS (Reuters) - Terry Robinson is about three-quarters of the way through his second apprenticeship. His first, when he was 15, was as a carpenter and joiner: now he's building the skills to attain supervisor status in retail.

He will be 71 in June.

Based near Oxford, England, he is in a minority of people who are not only still working, but also acquiring new skills as they head toward their 80s, Europe's fastest-growing age group.

Europe's policymakers hope workers his age and younger can serve as models for the citizens of an aging society.

In Paris, 63-year-old Carole Avayou would like to join that group. A technician with Air France-KLM since 1978, she had just turned 60 when she was served notice of compulsory retirement. She has taken her fight for work to court, after a vain protest including locking herself in the office.

"(I wanted them) to discuss things with me, hear my arguments. I put a piece of furniture behind the door and jammed the handle," she said by telephone.

These two stories show the contradictory realities facing older people in Europe as the continent hits a demographic milestone. This year, the number of people aged 60-65 will start to exceed the 15-20 year olds who traditionally replaced them in the labor force, according to a Eurostat data cited by Allianz.

If Europe's economies are to grow, older people will have to work for longer. But in a weak economic climate, not many employers want them.   Continued...

<p>Employee Sydney Prior, 95, poses for a portrait at the B&amp;Q store in the southwest London suburb of New Malden in this picture taken March 24, 2010. The participation of older workers has increased in recent years, particularly in part-time jobs for men like Prior, whose employer, retail chain B&amp;Q, has for decades made a public point of its enthusiasm for older staff. Picture taken March 24, 2010. REUTERS/Simon Newman</p>