TOKYO -Japanese would be allowed to work until they are 70 years old as part of a proposed strategy to deal with the country's declining population.
The push comes just a year after the government started requiring employers to allow retiring staff to continue working until 65 if they want to. Currently, most Japanese retire at 60.
The proposal, by a government advisory panel, is also aimed at encouraging married women to continue working even after they have children, through measures such as doubling the financial benefits for starting a family and bringing up children.
But the core of the strategy is to allow men and women to work until 70.
The panel, which consists of business leaders, academics and senior government officials, is expected to submit its proposals this month to the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy, chaired by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The proposals will then be compiled into the government's policy on economic and fiscal reforms to be unveiled in June.
Government data released recently revealed that Japan's population has slipped to 127 million, after peaking at about 128 million in 2008. More than 25 per cent of the population is over 65. If nothing is done, experts predict that the population will plummet to about 87 million by 2060.
Despite calls by some academics and business leaders to bring in immigrants to tackle the problem, the government has opted for a domestic solution.
In an article published in his blog on Monday, Land and Transport Minister Akihiro Ohta wrote: "I believe we have enough human resources in our own country which can be used to deal with the problem without having to resort to foreign labour."
As a mid-term measure, however, the government is expected to ease the entry of foreign workers to make up for the acute labour shortfall in the construction industry as infrastructure work for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics gathers steam.
At present, the economically productive segment of Japan's population is defined as people between 15 and 64, which amounts to around 44 million.
The panel urged the government to redefine the country's productive segment to people aged between 20 and 70, which would add another four million workers and reduce the need for foreign labour.
With added measures to lift the fertility rate from 1.41 to 2.07 by 2060, the government hopes to maintain the population at around 100 million.
Mr Abe is already trying to bring more women into the workforce. He has urged corporate leaders to promote more women to executive roles and is working to increase childcare facilities.
This article was published on May 7 in The Straits Times.
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