Bosses at Lord Bath’s historic Longleat Estate sparked outrage today by firing every employee aged over 65.
The safari park attraction – owned by the 78-year-old Marquess of Bath – has axed all its pensionable workers a year before the practice is outlawed by the Government.
More than 25 members of staff – including 18 over 70, seven over 75 and two who were still grafting in their 80s – have been made redundant in the last two weeks.
They were cleaners, telephone operators, tour guides and ticket booth attendants, some of whom live on the 8,000-acre estate in Wiltshire.
Union leaders yesterday (Weds) slammed the move as age discrimination and a cynical ploy to avoid new government legislation which comes into force next October.
Trade Union Congress (TUC) regional secretary Nigel Costley said the move is an ”own goal” for the estate.
He added: ”Those companies who recognise the value and expertise of their older workers really feel the benefit from keeping them and nurturing them.
”Not only is it morally correct to have older workers – it works. But for somewhere like Longleat, this is bad news all round.
”It’s bad for the employer themselves, because they are losing experience and it’s bad for the individuals involved.”
The Longleat Estate, which employs 360 people, is owned by the Marquess of Bath.
Built in 1567, the Elizabethan mansion house and its vast grounds are also the setting for the BBC One show Animal Park.
Lord Bath handed over the day-to-day running of the attraction to his son, Ceawlin, 38, Viscount Weymouth, earlier this year.
Yesterday (Weds) the Longleat Estate said the decision to issue redundancy notices was part of its ”modernisation” plans.
Bosses denied it was anything to do with new Government legislation, which will make it illegal to force out older workers from next October.
They refused to say exactly how many employees are affected, but the figure is believed to be at least 27.
A spokesman said: ”Clearly the priority is to modernise the estate, which has unfortunately resulted in the number of workers being let go.
”We are working with those affected who have housing connected with the estate, to ensure their housing needs are met.
”This is not to do with the law changing.
”This has more to do with modernising the workforce, particularly as there were a number of workers who are in contact with children, and all the legislation that goes along with that.
”This a move unrelated to changes in the law. It’s about modernising the profile of the staff.”
But campaign charity Age UK said it was already aware of a similar incident at Battersea Dogs Home, where 65 workers had been made redundant.
Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of the charity, admitted she feared tens of thousands of Britain’s 846,000 working pensioners could be at risk of being axed.
She said: ”We are concerned some employers might be tempted to rush out forced retirement notices before the proposed ban comes into force.
”The fact this is legally allowed doesn’t make it any less unfair to older employees who would see their working lives cut short for no reason other than their age.”