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Blanket ban on working after 60 is age discrimination

13 September 2011

A blanket prohibition on airline pilots working after they have reached the age of 60 is unlawful, the European Court of Justice has ruled.

In a case brought by German pilots against the airline Lufthansa, the Luxembourg judges said EU member states could introduce laws providing for a difference in treatment based on workers’ physical capabilities if this was a genuine and determining requirement for the post.

The court also confirmed that national laws banning older workers from certain jobs could be justified if they were necessary to ensure the maintenance of public security.

But the court found that the general prohibition in a collective agreement between representatives of the airline and its pilots fell foul of the EU’s equal treatment directive.

Although a limitation on pilots working after 60 could be justified to guarantee passenger safety, local communities over which aircraft flew, and the safety and health of the pilots themselves, the EU judges said a complete ban was contrary to international and German legislation.

“The prohibition on piloting after that age, provided for by the collective agreement, is not a necessary measure for the protection of public health and security,” the court said.

“Possessing particular physical capabilities may be considered as a genuine and determining occupational requirement for acting as an airline pilot and that the possession of such capabilities is related to age,” it continued, because “that requirement is aimed at guaranteeing air traffic safety, it pursues a legitimate objective which may justify a difference in treatment on grounds of age.”

The court pointed to the position of international and German authorities that, until the age of 65, pilots are considered as having the physical capabilities to act as a pilot, even if, between 60 and 65, they may do so only as a member of a crew in which the other pilots are younger than 60.

It found that the Lufthansa collective agreement fixing at 60 the age limit from which airline pilots are considered as no longer possessing the physical capabilities to carry out their occupational activity was a disproportionate requirement in light of international and German legislation that fixed that age limit at 65.

The case (C-447/09) was brought by three Lufthansa pilots, Reinhard Prigge, Michael Fromm and Volker Lambach, whose employment contracts were automatically terminated when they reached 60.

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Discrimination Children