Age discrimination to be tested in Swedish court

Age discrimination is endemic in Sweden – that is discrimination on the basis of just age and not because of some attribute or lack of competence. Though it is illegal it is an everyday occurrence. To be labelled a “pensioner” in Sweden is often as an excuse for exclusion and a not so subtle form of insult.

The elderly are noticeably absent in parliament where they are grossly underrepresented. This is, in part, due to the fact that all the political parties are inherently prejudiced against age and have an obsession about youth. It shows up with the party leaders and their entourages as well, where youth – and being seen to be young – is of primary importance. Incompetence and inexperience are tolerated (even encouraged) to satisfy the youth fetish. Competence and experience do not balance the perceived disadvantages of age. The theory being, I suppose, that this attracts young, first time voters. I perceive the incidences of incompetence in government and in political life as increasing. I would go so far as to say that there has been a “dumbing-down” of politics. The proportion of the elderly among the electorate is growing sharply. But so far their electoral strength has not manifested itself in politics or in parliament.

A public transport company, Keolis, has introduced a blanket rule forbidding those over 70 years old from being bus or taxi drivers. This is a ban based entirely on age and not on competence. The Discrimination Ombudsman is taking this to court to see if such a blanket age-based ban is legal.

Swedish radioThe Discrimination Ombudsman has taken the position that the public transport company Keolis is discriminating illegally against the elderly with their ban on people aged 70 or over from driving buses and taxis. For the first time, such a general upper age limit will now be tested in the Labour Court.

Marie Nordström who is handling the case within the office of the Discrimination Ombudsman hopes that this will send a clear signal to employers. “We must become aware of that age itself actually constitutes grounds for discrimination, and that we should not discriminate against older people in employment. We must make effective use of older people’s knowledge and experience to a greater extent than we do today”.

…… Cecilia Jerneheim, Human Resources Manager at Keolis, says that the age limit is not about discrimination, but about road safety. “It is known that with increasing age, hearing, vision and response time are impaired and therefore we have chosen the age of 70. We need to put a limit somewhere and we have chosen 70” says Cecilia Jerneheim.

But whatever the labour court says the attitude of general condescension towards, and the political exclusion of, the elderly will continue in Swedish society for some time yet.

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