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When would you give them their P45’s?

These celebrities are all past retirement age but are still working as hard as ever. As the government plans to allow people to work on past 65 we ask local pensioners why they are not putting their feet up

By Jane Hardy, Jamie McDowell and Laura McGarrity

It used to be that once you hit 65 — 60 if you were female — you got the carriage clock, the boss’s platitudes at your leaving do and colleagues’ cards, and were then free to put your feet up. Not any more.

Even before the Government’s recent announcement of the abolition, then extension, of the traditional retirement age, a trend had began to develop towards employing OAP workers. In 1989, homeware store B&Q opened a store in Macclesfield, England, staffed entirely by people over the age of 50. As a result, the store made 18% bigger profit than other stores and has six times less staff turnover.

Companies such as B&Q, which have been lauded for going out of their way to hire older people, state that there are benefits to keeping 60- and 70-somethings at work. For employees, there can be benefits too — although for a minority it may be a question of economic necessity rather than choice.

Age NI, the new charity combining Age Concern NI and Help the Aged in Northern Ireland, welcomes plans to scrap the default retirement age in 2011.

This week, Anne O’Reilly, Chief Executive at Age NI said: “Policies like the default retirement age have always presented a barrier to the full and equal participation of older people in Northern Ireland. At present, almost one quarter of the working population in Northern Ireland is over 50.”

Anne added: “It stands to reason that we should fully utilise our highly skilled and experienced resource of older workers — not let it go. By removing the default retirement age, older people will have the right to pursue available opportunities that enable them to contribute fully to our social and economic life.”

There are celebrated cases of people over retirement age being sidelined when they still want to remain centre stage such as 90-year-old Elena ‘The Queen of Soho' Salvoni, a famous greeter and meeter at many of London's most prestigious restaurants. She was told by her employers last week that insurance companies would not insure her any more, and that because of this, they could no longer afford to employ her.

We talked to people in their 60s and 70s who work in different occupations to see what the change will mean to them ...

The fashion assistant

Valerie Kirkpatrick (mid-60s) works as a receptionist/assistant at the Alison Campbell model agency. She is divorced, has three grown up daughters, Aundrea, Ashleigh and Amanda, two grandchildren, Chloe and Roxanne and a two month old great-granddaughter, Ella Rose. She says:

I have always worked. When I was younger, in the ’70s, I worked at the Penthouse in the Europa Hotel, a kind of Playboy club with bunny girls, or Penthouse pets as they were called. I was the receptionist and my sister was manager. We started at 10pm and went on into the small hours. During the bombings, I remember hiding under the baby grand.

After going to Kings Park School, Lurgan, I left at 15 and went straight to work to earn some money. That’s what we did then. I went to work at a small hairdresser’s and when I looked at my first pay packet, I thought, ‘I’ve earned that, it’s appreciation for what I’ve done this week’.

After doing my hairdressing course, I worked part-time in the Sportsman pub on the Lisburn Road, doing nights, because I had children and I didn’t want to leave them with anybody else. At night, my husband looked after the girls.

Later on, I did my NVQ in typing and worked for Quantum Electronics in Lisburn.

I never thought I’d retire. Work gives you independence. Also I like having my own money. I’ve never liked asking anybody for money, not even my husband.

I’m lucky in that I have loved all my jobs, especially the current one. I’ve been with Alison for nine years, working with the girls, on promotion and on reception. I love PR as I’m a people person. I’m a gabbler — talk, talk, talk!

Before I arrived here, I was made redundant from my role with Lights Marketing. My daughter was a director and it was sold to a Dublin firm. I saw this job advertised, which involved the same sort of work I’d been doing.

I went to see Alison and she said, “Can you start next week?” My age wasn’t discussed, but she said she was pleased she wouldn’t have to train me.

As I was over 50, I was worried I wouldn’t get another job but you just have to be determined. I also think Northern Ireland isn’t quite so ageist and cut-throat as other parts of Britain. Here I think experience is respected.

One real plus is that I like working with young people.

My mother, still going strong at 94, was very glamorous and my sister was a beauty queen. It’s in the family.

I think that no matter how old you are, there’s always a future. It’s like a new chapter. My mum always says when will I bring her great great granddaughter round.

I work nine to five with one day off, which suits me. And I don’t find the tax an issue. If you had to work and were feeling old, that would be different. But I’m pleased to have the option.”

The charity employee

Alma Craig (75) works as credit controller within the trading team of Age NI. She says:

I think the Government's abolition of the retirement age is a good thing because it gives people a choice. In fact, it's a positive thing for the older generation in general. People don’t want to be discriminated against because they are older.

I'm not one of these people who would like to retire sooner rather than later. I enjoy working and don’t want to retire. I also support my family and grandchildren in my spare time.

The money isn’t the main reason I work, though. I love what I do and knowing that my contribution to the team makes a difference. I will know when the time comes for me to retire.

The Government isn’t in a position to tell people when to retire. It should be up to the individual. It all depends on each person’s social and financial circumstances and also, of course, whether they’re in good enough health to continue working. No employer should be expected to carry passengers. People in later life should simply be treated fairly like any other employee. If you can’t do the job you should go, but if you are happy to work and are able to continue making a valuable contribution you should have the choice to do so.

I definitely think that the older generation can add things to the workforce of businesses that younger people can’t. We add more because in most cases we want to work and are doing it by choice.

However, it depends on the individual. Young people, like some older people, can also be polite, hard working and committed, although some can be lazy.

It's for employers to make the decision when recruiting new staff, but older people should be interviewed and treated like any other applicant.

I think the abolition of the retirement age will have a negative effect on people involved in manual labour, such as farmers. Older people doing manual labour jobs may find it more physically demanding. Again, though, it depends on the individual circumstance of the older person and the role that they play.

The new legislation won't affect me personally, since my employer, Age NI, naturally doesn’t have a compulsory retirement age and they actively encourage employees to continue in their employment for as long as they are happy and able to do so. I was interviewed and commenced employment with my employer at the age of 72 years.

However, it may help many other people in later life. I really don’t know enough to make a judgment as yet as to who will benefit from it.

The supermarket worker

Rodney Massey (68) works in customer services at Sainsbury’s, Holywood Exchange. Married with two grown-up children, he lives in Bangor. He says:

The way I look at it, you hear of so many people retiring and then you hear ‘So and so is dead’. It makes sense to keep going.

My wife is 10 years younger than me and when she retires, if I’m still about, I will think about doing the same thing. So I shall probably retire at some point in the next five years.

I was 61 when I applied for my job working at the kiosk in Sainsbury’s, but age wasn’t mentioned. My background was what counted — I was a salesman on the road for 20 years selling ice cream among other things, and I’m a chatty sort of person. You could say I’m good with people and in the three years since I have worked in the kiosk, selling cigarettes, papers and magazines, quite a few customers have become friends.

Also, I suppose I don’t actually look my age — if I ever tell people, they say ‘You’re not that age’, and a lot of people think I haven’t reached retirement age.

I work three days a week and have get get up at 6am for a 7.30am to 4.30pm working day. Originally, I did a five day week but when I reached 67, two years past retirement age, I reduced my hours. And I haven’t noticed a drop in income because I’m £200 a month better off now, after tax, so it would have been silly to turn it down.

At Sainsbury’s I am not the only OAP — Freddie who talked to me at lunchtime is into retirement. He was 20 odd years with the Post Office, has a goodish pension, and although the tax nearly cripples him, he enjoys the work.

You have to be quick when a queue builds up but the rest of the time you get a bit of conversation about the weather or one person mentioned Hurricane Higgings, saying how could they get the news of the funeral into the second edition when his coffin was still travelling towards the grave. That’s Belfast humour.

My children are happy enough that I’m still working. My son is emigrating to Australia with his girlfriend, and before that, they’re getting married in Prague. The extra money helps.

I left Everton School in Belfast at 14 and worked at Shepherd’s grocery shop, then worked for the Co-op. I’ve never stopped working.

I certainly agree with the abolition of the fixed retirement age. My generation has a lot to contribute — the younger ones serve people, then off they go, but when you get older, you’ll have a conversation with a customer.

Working gives you purpose, a reason for getting up in the morning. I believe if you’re fit enough, why should you retire?”

The shop assistant

Sandra Skates (66) works in the coffee shop in Marks & Spencer, Lisburn. She has one daughter Alison (40) and two grandsons, Jordan (17) and Conor (15) and lives in Lisburn. She says:

I have worked in Marks & Spencer’s coffee shop for four years; before that I worked as a manager in the Belfast City Hospital records department for 43 years. My husband and I retired when we were 59, but sadly he passed away 11 months later.

After my husband died I thought I should to go back to work to keep myself busy, but I didn't think it was appropriate — because of my age and the changes going on — to go back to the hospital to my managerial role.

I was encouraged to apply for Marks & Spencer by a friend. I initially joined as temporary Christmas staff, but have now been here for four years and I have loved every moment of it.

At the interview my age was never mentioned and I don't think it has been since. My manager joked just the other day that I will still be working when I am 75. I hope to work for as long as I can.

Working in retail is fabulous for older employees because we have so much experience to bring to the job. This experience is invaluable and just can’t be bought. In my opinion older members of staff can be more conscientious in day-to-day duties, like not calling in sick and talking to customers are areas where older employees are better than very young staff.

One reason I still work is the social side of things. I love the people I work with and they make such an effort to invite me out with them; my age is not an issue.

Despite my age I feel fine working on my feet all day. I have always been a very active person and even just last month some of my colleagues and I did a 10-mile moonlight walk for Action Cancer. I am the type of person who likes to be involved and fund-raising for Action Cancer is only one of my hobbies.

Marks & Spencers is a very age friendly employer. If someone was to get a job here in their 50s they could easily work their way up the ranks and become a manager.

I have chosen to keep working because it’s right for me, I think people should have a choice to retire when they want to and for it not to be based on age. Everyone's situation is different.

The issue I personally don’t agree with is working longer in order to secure a better pension. My husband did this and then had to pay tax on his state pension. As I work, I pay tax from my salary and this doesn't bother me, although I do object to paying tax on my state pension. There is a saying that life starts at 40, but I think life can begin whenever you want it to, if you put the effort in.”

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