AGEING AND WORK – Focusing on disability

By editorial staff

Many attributes, such as judgement and strategic thinking, develop or manifest for the frst time as we grow older. Work experience and skills also grow with age. However, some functional capacities, mainly physical and sensory ones, decline as a result of the natural ageing process. The gradual ageing of the population sounds an alarm bell and poses a challenge to employment policy makers. The promotion of employment opportunities for an ageing workforce requires innovative ideas in terms of welfare and working conditions adapted to professional needs.
At the European level, labour markets have the potential to facilitate older workers by promoting equity through an intergenerational approach.

Eurofound, the EU agency for the improvement of living and working conditions, has conducted research since the 1990s that focuses on labour market participation, work performance, working conditions and the employment preferences of older workers in the policy context of the changing demographic profle in Europe. The work has also focused on public support and initiatives at the company level that promote the employment of older workers, especially in the 55-64 age group.

One of the main findings of the survey is that although older workers are less likely to be unemployed than younger workers, they believe that if they were to become unemployed they would not fnd a new job with the same pay or would even have difficulty re-entering the market.
Another aspect that emerged from the survey is the preference for working shorter hours, which would make it possible for older workers to manage their work in a more sustainable and long-term way.

Recent research has focused on extending working life through flexible retirement schemes, mid-career reviews and financial incentives.
We are therefore witnessing a progressive delaying of retirement, with all the consequences that this can have for people with disabilities.
Based on the data reported below on the distribution of employed persons with disabilities and all employed persons, divided by age group, we can in fact deduce that the rise in the age of employed persons corresponds to a worsening of the health conditions of workers with disabilities (Source: Fondazione Studi Consulenti del Lavoro on Eurostat data and Ministry of Labour and Social Policies 2019).

• Up to 39 years old
Employed people with disabilities: 17.5%. Total employed: 36%
Between 40 and 49 years old
Employed persons with disabilities: 28.8%. Total employed: 29.9%
Between 50 and 59 years old
Employed persons with disabilities: 39.4%. Total employed: 26.7%.
Over 60 years old
Employed persons with disabilities: 14.3%. Total employed: 7.3%

In contrast to the delaying of retirement, there is a need for workers with disabilities to access their pension early. But what are the requirements for early retirement for people with disabilities or for carers of family members with disabilities?

In 2011, with Decree no. 201, entitled ‘Disposizioni in materia di trattamenti pensionistici’ (Provisions on retirement treatments), Minister Fornero relaunched two institutions that were already in force (Legislative Decree 503/92) dedicated to early retirement compared to the general legislation, which required workers be 66 years and 7 months of age or have 42 years and 10 months of contributions for early retirement (41 years and 10 months for women).
If they had at least 20 years of contributions, in 2013 workers with a disability rate of 80% or more were able to retire at 60 years and 7 months for men and 55 years and 7 months for women.
Let us see in detail what Law 104 currently provides in terms of early retirement.

All persons who qualify under Law 104 are entitled to an early retirement pension, but in diverse ways: employees in the private sector are entitled to an early retirement pension, while public sector workers can obtain a disability pension if they are unable to work.

In the private sector, beneficiaries of Law 104 are eligible for an early disability pension if they meet the following requirements:

61/56 years of age for men/women
• contributory age of at least 20 years
• recognised 80% disability

In the public sector it works differently. There is a disability pension that can be partial or total. Partial incapacity requires at least 15 years of contributions. If the disability is total, the contribution years must amount to at least 5 (of which 3 must have been earned in the last 5 years). A medical commission decides which of the two options to consider once the level of severity has been established.
An early retirement pension is also available for carers of disabled family members.

Who can apply?

All those who have been assisting the disabled person for at least 6 months and the latter can be:
a spouse or a frst-degree relative as long as they are cohabiting;
• a second-degree relative if the latter has parents or a spouse aged 70 or older or who has died and is therefore left alone.

Once the doctor’s approval is obtained, early retirement can take place in two ways: through Quota 41 or through Ape Sociale (early retirement at zero cost).
Quota 41 provides that 41 years of contributions and one year of contributions must be paid before 19. The age is not important.
In order to be eligible for Quota 41, the following parameters must be met:
• Unemployed person who has been unemployed for 3 months;
• Disabled worker with a 74% disability rate;
• Caregiver who, for at least 6 months, has been caring for a family member with a serious disability;
• Worker who performs an exhausting job.

As for Ape, the requirement is 63 years of age and 30 years of contributions. If the required parameters are met, there are no costs or penalties. It is also possible to anticipate the pension for all those who are more than 75% disabled. They are entitled to 2 months of additional imputed contributions.
This allows all benefciaries of Law 104 to retire 5 years – at most – earlier. Those who have a disability of over 80% are eligible for early retirement.
To sum up, we have seen that, while pension reforms have greatly extended working lives, at the same time there has been an increase in workloads that produce premature wear and tear on human beings, bringing about the phenomenon of extensive chronic diseases. Often these disorders become disabling as they progress, seriously affecting the employability of older people. It is not enough to postpone retirement; there must be a willingness to maintain the employability of older workers, including by adapting work to their needs.
Careful risk assessment must consider age and the resulting changes in the functional capacities of ageing workers. Attention should be paid to poor posture, working hours, severe microclimates, stress factors and joint limitations, to name but a few examples.
It will be necessary to change attitudes towards ageing and this will only be possible through continuous updating, training managers, raising awareness of the issue and making work more flexible.