Equal is not always fair

Israel needs a more nuanced approach to determining women’s retirement age.

By FAINA KIRSHENBAUM
July 18, 2011 22:17
3 minute read.
Watching loved ones aging can be difficult

Elderly_521. (photo credit: Illustrative photo: MCT)

 
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Last month, the Nissan Commission, tasked with producing new policy on female workers and retirement, finally issued its conclusions: Raise women’s retirement age from 62 to 67, the same age as men. This would supposedly mark progress, in that women would be treated equally to men and contribute more to pension funds.

This recommendation shields the failure of the Nissan Commission to address the full complexity of the challenges women face that affect when and under what terms they may retire. Moreover, legally requiring women to work until age 67 before they can receive a pension is an injustice to women in physically taxing fields such as education and healthcare.

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A major problem facing women in the workplace is the high unemployment rate of those over 45. Women in this age group who lose their jobs find it difficult, if not impossible, to find new employment.

Employers always seem to opt for younger applicants. These women find themselves working intermittently, and simply waiting for their 62nd birthday, when they can start collecting a pension. And what kind of pension can they expect after having been essentially out of work for a decade and a half?

AGEISM IN the job market and long-term unemployment mean the poor get poorer and pension funds have to struggle even harder to meet their commitments. To put it simply, Israel cannot hope to resolve the pension crisis unless it creates circumstances that will encourage the hiring of women in their 40s and 50s.

The commission was meant to tackle this issue. The absence of any policy on employment of women over 40 is a missed opportunity to help thousands of women out of financial difficulty and shore up pension funds.

We need to stop looking at the retirement age as some kind of magic number that will solve our pension crisis. The issue is much larger than that. We need to look at the conditions of employment of older workers.

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For example, a nurse might feel that the physical demands of the job are too high for her once she’s older. It would be a shame, however, to lose her knowledge and years of experience. There might be a less taxing job that could make use of her skills, such as mentoring and training new nurses.

The creation of such jobs for older workers would be triply beneficial: It would enable us to retain talented workers longer, secure the employment of older workers, and allow them to contribute more to their pension.

WORSE THAN the commission’s neglecting critical aspects of the problem is that the one solution it offered would be a huge blow to thousands of women. Supporters may tout the raising women’s retirement age to 67 as a stride toward equality of the sexes, but that is a specious argument. What is equal about a nurse having to work five extra years before she is entitled to a pension, after decades of having to lift patients out of beds and stand on her feet for hours on end? “Faina, if I have to wait until I’m 67 to retire, they’ll be taking me out of here on a stretcher,” says a nurse friend of mine.

What Israel needs is a policy under which women can choose at what age they retire. If they feel able to work beyond age 62, they will increase their pensions accordingly. But if a woman feels she needs to retire at 62, she should be entitled to her pension then.

Israel needs a nuanced approach to women’s retirement that takes into account the double burden many shoulder.

For however much progress feminism has made, by and large, it is the woman who still runs the household. Imagine, then, a woman who has been a teacher for 40 years and a mother – can we ask her to put off her retirement when she has spent her entire adult life working what amounts to double shifts? Moreover, what parents would want a burnt-out teacher for their child? Allowing women to choose when they retire while offering financial incentives to those who wish to work longer is fair. And that is what we are seeking – a fair policy – because an ‘equal’ policy has a funny way of turning out to be inappropriate in many circumstances.

The writer is an MK for Israel Beiteinu.

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