Longer, healthier lives, but more laws force people to leave the workforce
דצמבר 13, 2006. Haaretz: Ruth Sinai
Dr. Binyamin Kelner, a colonel in the air force reserves, sees himself as the most senior flight surgeon in Israel. He was one of youngest Israelis to fight in the War of Independence; he became a pilot and later a doctor. He was twice chief air force surgeon, both times during war. "I have no competition," he says. And yet, in 2003, when the Civil Service Commission published a tender for a chief medical officer for the Civil Aviation Authority, Kelner was not even invited for an interview. The reason: He was 72 years old at the time. "A person who is in prime condition and is not allowed to work gets a terrible blow. It leads to mental and physical deterioration," Kelner says.
After the District Labor Court turned down his suit, he appealed to the National Labor Tribunal. The head judge, Steve Adler, agreed with Kelner that a mandatory retirement age impairs freedom of occupation and human dignity, but says it was made for a worthy purpose - giving younger people a chance in the labor market.
In a minority opinion, the workers' representative on the bench, Shlomo Gorman, stated that Kelner had been discriminated against, and said there was no clause in the law that denies a person the right to make a living in the civil service after age 70. Kelner has appealed to the High Court, but his case has not yet been heard.
Retirement age has been decided over the years by agreement with the Histadrut Labor Federation. Only the civil service and a few other sectors have compulsory retirement. Eligibility for pension is also determined by law - age 60 for women and 65 for men. In 2004, the Retirement Age Law was enacted, setting compulsory retirement, and pension eligibility, at 67 for men and 62 for women. The law does allow employers to continue employing individuals of retirement age by special agreement, but most do not do so. Many even pressure their workers to retire before the required age, even as early as age 48, as in in the case of Bezeq.
About 76 percent of Israelis work until age 54. Above age 55, the rate of participation in the workforce plummets to 56 percent, and above 65 to 10 percent.
The rate of those 65 or over who are working is going up, and in 2000 was around 15.5 percent for men, 5.3 percent among women. But in the United States, for example, where there is no mandatory retirement, over the past decade the number of working seniors between ages 62 and 64 has increased from 43 percent to 51 percent.
Dr. Israel Doron, a lecturer in social work and gerontology at the University of Haifa, who represents Kelner in his High Court petition, believes that people who want to continue working should be allowed to do so.
"This is a matter of the way older people are viewed in society," Doron says. Doron does not idealize old age. "There is no doubt that there is a certain decline in ability, but the only [correct] generalization about aging is the one that says one can't make generalizations. A person can be old chronologically but young psychologically, or young chronologically but lonely and depressed," Doron says.
In fact, as life expectancy grows and pension plans weaken, continuing to work is an economic necessity for many. Today, some 30 percent of people over 65 require income supplements from National Insurance, meaning they have no income other than their NII retirement benefit of NIS 1,160 per month.
David Benivgi, 71, is one of those who wants to work longer. He has done a lot of things in his life, including spending 14 years in the army and 10 years in the police force. At age 63, he went to work as a caregiver for seniors in chronic care. Benivgi, who is in good physical condition, worked two hours every day for as many as four older adults. But at age 70, he had to stop working, because NII rules prohibit employing caregivers over 70.
When Benivgi stopped working, his income was slashed by NIS 2,500. And that was not the only thing that suffered. Today he sits at home feeling useless. Benivgi has also taken his case to the High Court of Justice. His lawyers argue that the NII rules are tainted with ageism. The NII, on the other hand, cites the retirement age of 67 and the fact that families complain if they are sent older caregivers.
The economist Dr. Ruth Kalinov, 78, still lectures and does research. "Not all older adults have the same decline in abilities. The fear of older adults working is idiotic," she says. She also says the claim that older adults should make way for younger people in the labor market is foolish. She notes that in the 90s, the state took in hundreds of thousand of immigrants from the Former Soviet Union, and after a short time the unemployment problem was solved. In a dynamic and growing economy, the more people working at an older age, the more income they have, and the more they consume, which benefits industry and services.
Dov Peleg, a pension expert, supports cancelling mandatory retirement. "Otherwise, the pension system will collapse. It's utterly impossible based on 25 or 30 years of work to pay pensions for 25 more years."
For years, the focus has been on the vulnerability of older adults, Doron says. "Not enough attention has been paid to the potential this group has," he adds.