The High Court of Justice issued an interim conditional order on Wednesday requiring the state to explain why the mandatory retirement age of 67 should not be voluntary.
The order came in response to a petition filed by a group of Israel Prize-winning and high-profile academics.
The High Court also ordered that final arguments on the issue be heard by an expanded full panel, since the issue touches on the country’s core constitutional principles.
The petition argues that the law requiring retirement at 67 from certain positions was passed at a time when people died and became physically disabled at younger ages.
Now that people live longer and are physically healthier for longer, the age-67 cutoff is outdated and oppressive to those who still wish to work by not allowing them to have a choice, the petition argues. It contends that such a forced choice constitutes age discrimination and harms the fundamental right to human dignity and the freedom to work.
Next, the petition notes that many democratic countries, including the US, Canada and Australia, have already changed any such discriminatory laws in this area.
In response, the state said that there are other democratic countries that still have a mandatory retirement age, including in the European Union, and also cited the US, despite the petitioners citing the US as anti-mandatory retirement.
The state said that the age cutoff of 67 was selected after consultation with expert sociologists to arrive at the optimal cutoff.
Also, the state noted that the law does not really require mandatory retirement, in that if both an employer and employee want the employment relationship to continue, that is an option. Rather, the employee only need retire if the employer does not agree to continued employment.
The state continued, saying the law protected the average elderly person who might otherwise get pressured into working when he was no longer healthy and for a minimal salary.
On the flip side, the state said that the law protected the employer from being stuck with elderly workers who no longer performed their jobs adequately, but whom they could not fire for fear of an age discrimination lawsuit.
The state also said that a lack of a retirement age could have unpredictable consequences on salaries at all ages, as it could require employers to pay more to employees who were no longer capable of maximal performance of their roles.
The high-profile academics supporting the petition include Prof.
Asa Kasher, Prof. Ruth Ben-Israel and Prof. Mordechai Segev, and it was filed by attorney Shoshana Gavish on behalf of her husband, Technion Prof. Moshe Gavish.
The three-justice panel, presided over by Supreme Court President Asher D. Grunis, said that despite its conditional order, it was not expressing a leaning on the final decision, only that the petition, on its face, presented serious constitutional issues to consider.
Further, the High Court said that some of the specific issues raised in the case about Moshe Gavish’s situation at the Technion should be handled by the labor courts, leaving only the overarching constitutional issue before it.
Shoshana Gavish responded to the decision stating, “We are pleased that the High Court will with a broad panel seriously address the issue of mandatory retirement in Israel, which breeds discrimination and its grave harm to the elderly population.”
She added, “The current constitutional situation breeds terrible injustice and this law must be erased from the book of laws. Discrimination against the elderly must be fought just as we fight against discrimination toward women and minorities.”