Two months have passed since the government launched its national strategy policy for active ageing 2014-2020 which is premised upon three major themes: the opportunity for older and ageing people to continue participating in the formal labour market, participating in society and living independently.
Through this policy the government pronounced itself in favour of the introduction of a gradual and flexible retirement where older people can continue playing a key role in society well beyond their statutory retirement age.
As the law stands in Malta, employment can be terminated on reaching statutory retirement age. Furthermore, the ageist stereotype of older people that is widely held has resulted in older people not having their right to work respected as it may have been when they were younger.
Like other employers in Malta, the government terminates the employment of public officers immediately they reach retirement age, except for a few selected occupations such as that of a judge of the Superior Courts and a resident academic at the University of Malta or the Junior College. These exceptions to the general rule only serve to aggravate this discriminatory situation.
An effort has to be made by the government to eliminate without delay the disadvantages against older people in the sphere of employment
It is most improbable for a government employee to be able to retain his employment on reaching retirement age. The Public Service Management Code (PSMC) that regulates the employment of the members of the public service states that further extensions of service should be substantiated by a strong justification and be limited to exceptional circumstances and only where there is no employee available within the particular ministry to perform the tasks required, and a call for applications issued at the appropriate time, in advance and in the normal manner, yields no positive result.
Furthermore, before submitting a request for extension of service, the ministry is required to confirm that funds are available to cover the period of extension requested and must identify an understudy to take over the duties concerned, the details of whom must be submitted with the request. Attached to every request for an extension there must be a consolidated list of any other people over retirement age within the ministry’s portfolio that should be constantly updated to reflect the real-time situation, with new approvals indicated by using ‘track changes’.
To top it all, the PSMC stipulates that public sector employees who have their service extended beyond retirement age are not eligible to apply through calls for applications for the filling of vacancies in the Public Service/ Public Sector (PSMC, paragraph 184.108.40.206). Hence, they are denied the opportunity of moving up the career ladder as other public officers. Worse than that, they are often placed in an inferior position than that which they occupied prior to their retirement.
Five years ago, the government introduced a policy expressing the intent to maintain people in employment in the public service beyond their official retirement age, on a selective basis according to the needs of the service. The Prime Minister of that time acknowledged by means of an announcement that appeared on the Malta Government Gazette of April 28, 2009 (No. 18,410) that the public service was facing a shortage of skilled and qualified staff in different areas and that a significant loss of valuable expertise and skills often follows retirement of officers in particular areas.
This admission of error was accompanied by the government’s acceptance that the need had arisen for the re-engagement of retired public officers or engagement of retired external recruits possessing particular requisites.
However, subsequent post-retirement recruitment was limited to nurses, midwives and consultants in medical disciplines who were offered renewable fixed-term contracts of a maximum period of one year with the Ministry for Health and the Ministry for the Family and Social Solidarity.
If the national strategy policy for active ageing is to be translated from paper into action, a sincere effort has to be made by the government to eliminate without further delay the existing disadvantages against older people in the sphere of employment. As a start, it can put its own house in order and serve as an example to other employers by granting public officers their right to continue working with the same conditions of work on reaching statutory retirement age.
Denis Tanti has been active in the trade union movement for years.