Ministers insisted they were not forcing people to work longer as they unveiled new legislation which will create a right for people to work beyond the compulsory retirement age.
The new proposals will be implemented by October 2006 as part of a new European employment directive, also aimed at cracking down on age discrimination in the workplace.
The Government announced it will bring forward legislation to set a “default” retirement age of 65.
Currently, firms can set whatever retirement age they like, with many people stopping work at 60 or even younger.
But under the new reforms, retirement ages below 65 will only be allowed if they can be shown to be necessary.
“The right to request working beyond retirement age will help to engender a real culture change, taking us towards a world where fixed retirement ages are consigned to the past,” said Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt.
But the TUC was one of several unions who came out against the proposal, saying it wanted workers to have a greater choice about when they can retire.
Deputy general secretary Frances O’Grady said, “The right to request to work past 65 is welcome in theory but in practice we are concerned that employers will find it too easy to say no.”
Patrick Grattan, chief executive of the Third Age Employment Network said, Ministers champion the right for equal opportunities and pay across race, disability and gender, yet they condone the cut off of people’s employment rights and opportunities at an arbitrary chronological age.”