Promoting quality employment for older workers is crucial to boosting growth and ensuring a financially sustainable pension system, according to a new OECD report on ageing and employment policies in France.

Working Better with Age in France emphasises that the transition from employment to retirement comes especially early and poses problems for many older workers. Between 2008 and 2011, only 55% of older people went directly from employment to retirement. The others experienced periods of unemployment, in many cases long-term, at the end of their careers.

France ranks nearly last among OECD countries for the effective retirement age. In 2012, this was estimated at 59.7 for men and 60.0 for women, versus respective averages of 64.2 and 63.3 across the OECD area as a whole.

Even if the employment of older people has risen slightly in France, as it did in almost every OECD country during the crisis, the employment rate for 55 to 64-year-olds is still below international averages: in 2012, 44.5% of older people were employed, compared to a European average of 48% and an OECD average of 54%.

It is above age 60 that the gap between France and the other OECD countries widens, although encouragingly the employment of 55 to 59 year-olds rose significantly: at 67% in 2012, the employment rate of 55-59 year-olds exceeded the European average of 63% and the OECD average of 66%.

“Today the government and social partners must set bolder objectives to allow a growing number of seniors to resume or retain quality employment before becoming eligible to draw full pensions,” said Stefano Scarpetta, OECD Director of Employment, Labour and Social Affairs.

Among its recommendations, the OECD says France should:

  • Combat age discrimination: Counter the negative perceptions of older people in the workplace that constitute a major obstacle to prolonging active lives and discourage employers from recruiting workers over 55.
  • Make negotiated contract terminations less attractive at career end for workers and firms: This procedure is especially financially attractive for the highest-paid and their employers, yet few of the workers involved ever go back to work. 
  • Step up the efforts of the Public Employment Service to help older unemployed to return to work: Ascertain at an early stage how best to assist seniors, on the basis of solid profiling, and give preference to the most effective measures, such as intensive aid to job-seeking and subsidised jobs in the market sector.
  • Consider older workers’ needs in the reform of vocational training: Promote the updating of skills and raise the qualifications of older workers to give them professional mobility at the end of their careers.
  • Prioritise retraining and access to part-time work without loss of pay for employees who will have a personal account for preventing exposure to strenuous work: The early-retirement option should be recommended only for workers near retirement age during the initial years of the introduction of such accounts.