Elderly couple (illustrative).
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
The High Court of Justice discussed on Tuesday whether the law regarding mandatory retirement was too inflexible and unconstitutional as part of an appeal filed by leading professors who oppose the present employment law.
An expanded, seven-justice panel of the High Court of Justice presided over by Supreme Court Deputy President Miriam Naor led the hearing, which was live-streamed from the courts’ website as part of an ongoing project to increase transparency on key constitutional cases.
The justices’ questions to Chani Ofek, the state attorney’s representative, included hypothetical suggestions to teak the current law, in which retirement at the age of 67 is mandatory unless both the employer and the employee want the employment relationship to continue.
One justice suggested that the mandatory retirement age could be raised higher than 67, having already been raised from 65, because of longer lifespans.
Another justice suggested that if there were no law mandating forced retirement at a certain age, such as 67, employers and employees could decide the issue on a case by case basis, but that making retirement mandatory went too far.
Ofek defended the present law, and said that without mandatory retirement the younger generation would not be able to find jobs.
The absence of mandatory retirement would more likely defend wealthier peoples’ job security at poorer peoples’ expense, she added.
The high-profile academics who supported the petition to the High Court include professors Asa Kasher, Ruth Ben-Israel and Mordecai Segev. The petition was filed by attorney Shoshana Gavish on behalf of her husband, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology professor Moshe Gavish.
Shoshana Gavish pointed out that the arguments the state made about negative impacts for younger workers in countries where mandatory retirement was eliminated was usually a passing, three year phenomenon.
A spokesman for Gavish said that while the 2012 Weinberg decision had helped some elderly workers avoid mandatory retirement under the present law, the petition was far more ambitious in seeking to throw out the law in its entirety.
At the end of the hearing, the court ordered the state to give an opinion on the applicability of the Weinberg decision within 20 days.
In February, the High Court of Justice issued an interim conditional order requiring the state explain why the retirement age of 67 should not be voluntary, as opposed to mandatory.
That order, as well as the order to analyze the Weinberg decision’s implications, may give guarded optimism to the petitioners that the court is seriously considering overturning the law.
The petition argues that the law requiring mandatory retirement at 67 from certain positions was passed at a time when people died and became physically disabled at younger ages, and notes that many democratic countries, including the US, Canada and Australia, have already changed any such discriminatory laws.
In response, the state had said that there are other democratic countries that still have a mandatory retirement age, including in the European Union, adding that the cut off age of 67 was selected after consultation with expert sociologists.
Also, the state noted that the law does not really require mandatory retirement, in that an option to carry on working past the retirement age exists if both the employer and employee want to continue the employment.
Rather, the employee only need retire if the employer does not agree to continued employment, the state said.
Gavish said that without High Court intervention, “the chances of elderly workers to avoid discrimination under the law is zero.”