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Mandatory retirement at 70 prompts poetry-based complaint – but can older workers ever really protest?

by on May 12, 2015

A number of newspapers covered the story yesterday of two magistrates, forced to retire at the age of 70, who have used poetry to complain about Britain’s ‘ageist’ justice system. It was reported here in The Telegraph and here in The Daily Mail.

The two women, Janet Boccaccio and Margaret Holyoake, were each presented with a certificate marking 20 years on the bench at Blackpool Magistrates Court, accompanied by glowing tributes from their colleagues. But instead of the customary acceptance speeches, both read out poems they had composed to protest at their mandatory retirement – both obviously feeling that they were not ready to stop work. This is not the first time that retiring JPs have turned to the arts to protest on this regulation. Last summer, another retiring magistrate, Karen Henshaw made headlines when she sang her own amended version of ‘Nobody Loves A Fairy When She’s Forty’, also reported in The Telegraph.

Whilst these occasions draw attention to the impact of Government-level decisions about retirement age for JPs (70), and the discrepancy between this and, for example, serving on a jury (75), they also remind me of a point that Katrina and I made in our Generations paper published in Organizational Studies. There we noted the very gentle and unthreatening nature of protests by older workers (there, we noted the presentation of a giant postcard to 10 Downing Street, commenting on how this group was assumed by commentators to be already ‘retired’ in the sense that they couldn’t be seen as a threat) compared to how protests by younger workers are presented (as civil unrest, threatening society etc). These poetry- and song-based protests seem to fall within the former, as worthy of applause, but not really threatening and not worthy of action beyond a general mention.

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