The Ontario government has introduced legislation that will end mandatory retirement for workers aged 65 and older.
"People are healthier and living longer so it is unfair to insist that they stop working simply because they turn 65," said Labour Minister Chris Bentley. "Ending mandatory retirement would allow workers to retire based on lifestyle, circumstance and priorities."
The Ontario Human Rights Code currently does not protect people beyond age 65 from age discrimination for employment purposes. As a result, employees can be forced to retire at 65.
Academic groups in the province welcomed the legislation and called for its speedy passage.
"For more than 20 years, academics have pressured the provincial government to eliminate legalized age discrimination in the workplace so this legislation represents a significant victory," said Michael Doucet, president of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations.
Academics in Ontario have long argued against mandatory retirement on the grounds that an academic career differs considerably from that of other employees. The process required to become a university professor is longer than other professions - 10 to 12 years to get a degree, followed by several years of post-doctoral experience or contract teaching. As a result, professors have a career that often lasts less than 35 years.
The Ontario legislation will allow mandatory retirement to continue if it can be justified on "bona fide occupational requirement" grounds determined under the Human Rights Code. That means employees can still be forced to retire when they turn 65, or even younger, if it can be shown they no longer meet the requirements of the job or if they cannot be accommodated without causing undue hardship to the employer.
That has some labour groups worried. "Younger workers in their 50s and early 60s should be asking what the effect will be on them of the (exemption) provision in this government's legislation," warned Sid Ryan, president of CUPE Ontario.
It raises the spectre of all employees having to prove that they are physically and intellectually able to continue performing their jobs, Ryan said.
Others argued that the end of mandatory retirement could force many lower-income workers to stay on the job longer than they want.
"Eliminating mandatory retirement without addressing all the issues that effect a person's quality of life upon retirement is an empty promise," said Ontario Federation of Labour president Wayne Samuelson. "When pension plans are inadequate and government support falls short people are not in a position to 'choose' to retire."
In unveiling the new legislation at a Home Depot store known for hiring older workers, Bentley dismissed such concerns and argued that ending mandatory retirement will have little impact on the labour market. Only about 4,000 people a year are expected to take advantage of the change, out of nearly 7 million Ontario workers.
According to Statistics Canada, the number of Canadians aged 65 and over is expected to double to almost eight million by 2028 from nearly four million in 2000. In 2001, almost 12 per cent of the Canadian population aged 65 to 69 was still employed. While there is an increasing trend toward early retirement, more than 20 per cent of workers aged 45 and older plan to work past 65.
The government also suggested that groups such as recent immigrants and women might be disadvantaged by the current mandatory retirement policies. Immigrants often enter the Ontario workforce later in their careers and many women temporarily withdraw from the labour force for family or other reasons, Bentley said. As a result they may have to work longer to ensure their financial security later in life.
Ontario is not the first jurisdiction in Canada to move in this direction. Manitoba, Quebec, Alberta, Prince Edward Island, Nunavut, Yukon and the Northwest Territories have already banned mandatory retirement.
Learn more about Ontario's new retirement legislation at