Who wants to work forever?

Well I do, and that’s because I like my job. There are others as well who want to keep working for various reasons – avoiding monotony, force of habit, feeling of being valued, financial needs, social reasons… the list goes on.

Singapore’s most visible elderly workers – our cleaners. Photo from https://guanyinmiao.wordpress.com/

The latest report from MOM showed that employment of older workers aged 55-64 has increased from 65% in 2013 to 66.3% this year and, according to a Straits Times report, employent for workers aged between 65 and 69 has risen from 35.2 per cent in 2011 to 38.5 per cent in 2013 it now stands at 41.2%. This is in part due to the tight labour market and also the promotion and enactment of the RRA (Retirement and  Re-employment Act), which came into force in 2012. Now, there is talk about extending the RRA to 67.

Workers can still retire whenever they want, really. But this is a good option for those who do want to stay employed.

The only potential risk from the RRA (considering that we have full employment)? Employers of older workers may (or may not) experience higher healthcare benefit costs and health-related absenteeism. To mitigate this, MOM has cut the CPF contribution rate for this age group by 5%, meaning that the cost burden is passed on to workers. Is this a worthwhile tradeoff?

The target age of 67 was supposed to have been met back in 2003, as part of a decades-old plan to bring into balance Singaporeans’ longer life expectancy, productivity and retirement needs. This is a benchmark that Singapore desperately needs to meet, given the fact that we have scaled back our foreign-sourced population growth plans.

I had the opportunity to ask Heng Chee How (NTUC’s Deputy Secretary General) for his thoughts on what kind of impact we will see form a rising re-employment age.

“The offer and acceptance rates for reemployment in both the public and private sector since the law took effect are both in high 90+%.  That is very encouraging,” he shared, “The Tripartite Committee on the Employability of Older Workers (Tricom) issued an Advisory asking companies to extend the re-employment age ceiling from 65 to 67.  It also asked the Government to provide incentives to firms to do so, and the Government has agreed.”

As to whether there is discrimination against older workers and whether it is true that older workers are less productive, Mr Heng was quick to set the record straight.

“Every age group has its strong performers, average performers and poor performers. The best performers among the mature workers are those who know how to leverage their strengths, experience and networks to best effect.”

“There is ageism in every society. Our strength lies in strong tripartism and effective unionism at workplaces. Together with efforts by like-minded entities like TAFEP (Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices), we have the mechanisms to promote fairness at work and to deal with allegations.”

“Re-employed workers want to be treated fairly and be valued for their performance and contribution, and not be typecast and diminished just on account of their crossing a certain chronological age.  Employers worry whether re-employed workers can keep up their performance, updated skillsets, productivity, health and adaptability.  These are factors that affect a firm’s competitiveness.  Value is created by bringing down barriers of prejudice and negative stereotyping, and by positivity, lifelong learning and active, healthy aging.”

Personally, I see the 5% CPF rate cut as a form of ageism. It seems terrible to think that this should be considered normal – instead I hope to see it as a necessary evil to gt buy-in from employers but it should be reinstated gradually and I hope that the half to one per cent CPF reinstatement for older workers in mid-2015 is part of this journey back to fair employment practices.

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