‘It is my right to work beyond retirement age - but France says no’

Age discrimination in the workplace is real but hidden, says (soon to be forcibly retired) English teacher Nick Inman

Paris,France January 31st 2023: People march against raising retirement age
Protesters came out against raising pension age - but no solidarity for those forced to stop working in older age, says Nick Inman

France, the land of human rights and equality, has a dirty secret. It practises discrimination by the back door, and no one seems to care. 

For several years I have worked at my local university. The manager of my department has always been happy with my work as an English teacher but she is obliged to make me redundant this summer because of a technicality. 

I work part-time as a vacataire, a status of employment that brings the skills of the real world into the university. 

To be a vacataire, I have to be self-employed – in my case, as a journalist and writer.

Read more: Micro-entrepreneur status: Pros and cons of self-employment in France

Last year I received a nasty shock

The head of personnel informed me that on the eve of my 67th birthday I would have to stop teaching. 

I was surprised because I genuinely had not realised that I was old. 

“That’s the law,” she told me. And indeed it seemed to be. 

The status of vacataire is regulated by a government decree, which clearly states that a vacataire cannot work beyond 66 years and 364 days. 

I fought hard to get an extension of my contract and they made an exception for me because I was still paying for my son’s education.

‘Don’t come in to work tomorrow’

In September last year, I was back at my post, teaching business students to express themselves in English.

Then, one Wednesday afternoon in November, I got shock number two.

“Don’t come in to work tomorrow,” I was told. “You have been working illegally for the last two months. 

“There is nothing we can do because the software validating your hours refuses to accept a birthdate over 67 years ago.”

Read more: Is there a way to check my French pension contributions?

Discrimination on any basis is an offence

Again, I went into militant mode. Surely, there were laws against discrimination in the workplace? I appealed to common sense before the madness got out of hand.

“You wouldn’t dare terminate my contract because of my race, or gender, would you? What’s the difference?” I asked the head of personnel, to which the answer was silence.

When that failed, I threatened to make myself a test case.

French law (the Code pénal) says that discrimination on any basis – including age – is an offence. That applies to the decree-issuing minister for education as much as anyone else. 

The prevailing EU legislation is also abundantly clear. 

You can dismiss someone who does not do their job properly, but you cannot dismiss them for some biological factor over which they have no control and which does not impinge on their performance. 

Read more: French MPs to debate ‘discrimination based on hair colour and style’

No protests for the right to work 

Eventually, the director of the university blinked. He would make an exception, he said, and honour the commitment that was made some months ago. He would graciously let me finish this academic year.

From June onwards, I will dedicate my skills to the private sector. It pays better and does not give a hoot about years clocked up on the planet. 

Most people I speak to about this do not understand why I am making so much fuss. They have proper, salaried jobs and cannot wait to retire. 

Many of them went out demonstrating last year against the outrageous injustice of raising the retirement age from 62 to 64. 

Retirement should be a choice

I have been surprised by how little solidarity there is for the opposite scenario: the guy or woman who still has a lot to give, needs the cash and thinks there should be no mandatory cut-off point to a working life. 

They do not seem capable of imagining what it is like to be self-employed without a sufficient pension to be idle on. 

I thought ‘fraternity’ was all about thinking yourself into the other person’s shoes.

Retirement should be a personal choice, not an obligation. 

I am certain that in the future France will be begging retirees to come back to work to pay the pension bill of the generation that has not stood up for me.