Information provided by APRe! – the Associação de Aposentados Pensionistas e Reformados and desk research
The employment rate of 55–64-year-olds in Portugal is 65.9% and is, therefore, higher than the European average (62.3%)237. Similarly, the unemployment rate of 55–64-year-olds remains slightly lower than the EU average (5.2% compared to 5.5%). However, the percentage of unemployed 55–64-year-olds has been rising steadily since 1970 reaching 17.3% in 2021, while it is down for the other groups this year.
In Portugal, although the population is ageing, early retirement remains customary. Workers should have access to training or have the possibility to move to another position. Unfortunately, early retirement seems to be often favoured by employers who do not want to revert their older employees close to retirement age.
Testimony of Maria – early retirement instead of reasonable accommodation?
Maria is 65 years old and is a teacher in a public school. She enjoys her job and would like to keep on teaching until she reaches retirement age. But she has a disabling illness (fibromyalgia) that is getting worse and worse, forcing her to take frequent sick leave. A full teaching schedule is too physically demanding for her. Despite all the difficulties of the pandemic, teaching online was an advantage for Maria, who could better manage her time and the physical exhaustion caused by her illness, being able to work all the time without taking sick leave. Maria suggested to her school management to only have half-time classes, so she could do other tasks that were less physically demanding. The school says that this is not possible. If she cannot work full-time, the best option is to retire. Under these circumstances, Maria is considering retiring as soon as she has enough time to claim her pension free from penalty.
In 2017, a National Strategy on Active and Healthy Ageing for 2017-2025 has been presented to the parliament. It has been sent to UNECE in June 2022 in the framework of Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing and its regional implementation strategy. However, it seems that the Strategy itself has never been approved by the Portuguese parliament and is far from being implemented according to AGE members.
There are also general policy measures promoted by the Institute for Employment and Vocational Training, in particular, to support entrepreneurship. These measures, although not specifically aimed at supporting older people in retraining, can possibly contribute to this objective.
In terms of gender equality, there is a public entity called the Commission for Equality in Work and Employment, whose mission is to protect labour rights, taking into account situations of gender inequality. This entity receives complaints and responds to cases of gender discrimination. Its activities are transversal to all ages and do not focus specifically on age issues. Despite the existence of this commission and other initiatives, there is still evidence of structural inequality between women and men, also with regard to professional opportunities and salaries, which is even more exacerbated for older women.
To support older job seekers, there is a range of recent initiatives by the Institute for Employment and Vocational Training supported by the European Social Fund or the RRP, Recovery and Resilience Plan, and funded by the EU to mitigate the effects of the pandemic, including several employment subsidies. These initiatives consist of a set of measures providing financial support to employers who sign open-ended or fixed-term employment contracts of 12 months or more with unemployed people, with an obligation to provide vocational training to the contracted workers. These measures are intended to support in particular the youngest, aged 29 or less, but also the oldest, aged over 45.
As the legal retirement age approaches, which is 66 years and 4 months from 2023, the ePortugal website informs future or current retirees of their rights, the type of pensions available and the different opportunities to remain active. It is also possible to continue working beyond the legal retirement age. In the civil service, people can extend their working life until the age of 70. Working retirees are covered by the same general laws that apply to all workers, especially in the case of self-employed professionals (such as doctors or lawyers) who are self-employed after retirement.
Age discrimination in employment
The European directive 2000/78/EC has been transposed into the Labour Code, which provides for a general principle of non-discrimination, including on the basis of age, for employees and job seekers. However, age discrimination is a poorly recognised phenomenon in Portuguese society, although it is very present in everyday life. Despite the many examples of age discrimination in the workplace, it is still not perceived as a structural phenomenon and people are not aware of the mechanisms to defend themselves.
There is a Portuguese Diversity Charter. It provides for “the recognition, respect and appreciation of the difference(s) between people, including differences related to (…) age (…) The valorisation of the characteristics, skills and talents of each person promotes equal treatment and opportunities, fighting against stereotypes and discrimination and encouraging a culture of inclusion based on respect for the human being.” Since 2018, the Portuguese Association for Diversity and Inclusion has been acting in favour of the charter but, although age is taken into account, the activities of this association seem to be more focused on cultural diversity.
Sustainable examples of intergenerational collaborations are limited as it seems that young workers in Portugal face a serious problem of job insecurity in various sectors where most workers are older. This has especially created bad feelings among the workers. On the one hand, older workers, who are heavily overworked, want to quit due to burnout, and on the other hand, younger workers, who have poor working conditions and find it difficult to make a career.
Workplaces for all ages
Psychosocial risks at work have only recently been discussed in Portugal. The government provides companies, employers and employees with information leaflets that address the factors leading to psychosocial risks, the symptoms and consequences on the individual but also on the organisation, and the assessment of the risks, stressing the need to cover all workers. The Portuguese Red Cross has also produced a similar informative leaflet which aims to “provide national guidelines for the different agencies of the Portuguese Red Cross regarding awareness and promotion of healthy workplaces, for all ages and all areas of work”. Stress at work is addressed by other associations and in particular by APSEI, the association representing companies and professionals in the fields of fire safety, electronic safety, safety at work and safety in the transport of dangerous goods.
For the specific case of people with a disability, there is assistance in adapting jobs and other specific protective measures. They are systematised in a manual of the National Rehabilitation Institute.
The 2021 Green Paper on the future of work in Portugal recommends adapting employees’ working hours to enable them to reconcile work and family life and recalls the right to have holidays. In particular, it stresses the need to create more flexible working time arrangements, to promote new organisational methods that encourage work-life balance, and the right to extended leave or teleworking in certain situations, as is the case, for example, for informal carers. As of 1 January 2022, the Portuguese legislation for the right of employees to disconnect comes into force. This law imposed special duties for employers, favouring and supporting employees. For instance, it provides that the employer to ‘Inform the worker, when necessary, about the characteristics and manner of use of all devices, programmes and systems adopted to remotely monitor his or her activity’. In that sense, the law requires employers to train their employees in the use of digital equipment necessary for remote work.
Secondly, the law refrains the employer from contacting employees outside regular working hours. This law is one of the most avant-garde on the subject because, contrary to the legislation of other Member States, the law provides here that the employer must be responsible for ensuring that the worker’s time off is respected. This provision is of great benefit to older workers who are also informal carers, for relatives, and for whom it is particularly necessary to guarantee a work-life balance and to articulate correctly the hybridisation between home and office work.
Finally, the law provides that the employer must “make every effort to reduce the isolation of the worker, promoting, with the regularity established in the telework agreement, or, in case of omission, with intervals not exceeding two months, face-to-face contact between the worker and the superiors and other workers”.
Policy Officer on Employment and European Parliament Liaison
Sarah is in charge of AGE’s policy activities in the fields of employment, participation and active citizenship in old age. She also monitors EU initiatives on volunteering for older people and lifelong learning. She is responsible for the Task Force dedicated to on Employment, participation and active citizenship. Sarah also coordinates AGE’s relations with the European Parliament (EP).