SINGAPORE - It may soon be mandatory for firms to give older workers the choice to continue working beyond the age of 65.
In the clearest indication of a possible raising of the re-employment age, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday at the annual May Day Rally that the Government plans to amend the Retirement and Re-employment Act.
"We have to help the older workers continue working as long as they can, even beyond 65," he said, adding that the Government, unions and employers are in talks to extend the re-employment age, although the process will take time.
Singapore's statutory minimum retirement age is 62, but employers currently have to offer re-employment to those eligible up to age 65.
But in his speech to a 1,100-strong audience including Cabinet ministers, unionists, employers and guests, at the new Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability, PM Lee also urged workers to manage their job expectations as they may not be able to continue to do what they used to.
"Older workers would like to retain their current job and pay. However, at 65, we are not as strong as before," said PM Lee in Mandarin, urging them to adjust and pick jobs that they can physically cope with. "Rather than 'same job, same pay', please be prepared to do 'suitable job, reasonable pay'," he added.
This is not the first time that the issue of extending the re-employment age has been raised.
In March, Senior Minister of State for Manpower Amy Khor said in Parliament that the Government was looking to raise the re-employment age ceiling to 67.
Beyond staying employed for a longer period of time, PM Lee also stressed the need for workers to upgrade themselves, learn new skills, and stay employable to compete with emerging countries like China, India and Vietnam.
"We can't tell our competition to go away. They want to eat our lunch, we know that. They want to eat our dinner, we suspect that," said PM Lee. "We can't stop them from wanting, but we can make sure that we can hold our own and we will eat our own lunch."
He added that the Government was also chipping in to help. For instance, it spent $300 million to build two Continuing Education and Training campuses to provide upgrading skills and job matching opportunities for workers. The second centre will open in Paya Lebar later this year.
His speech comes in the wake of a less rosy job market here, with the highest jobless rate and lowest increase in new jobs filled since 2011, even though unemployment remained low at 2.1 per cent in the first quarter.
Industry players agreed that the labour crunch facing Singapore made it a good time to raise the re-employment age. But some voiced their concerns.
Stephen Lee, president of the Singapore National Employers Federation, said: "From the employers' perspective, given the very tight labour market, we are not against moving (the re-employment age), but we would like to have our concerns taken care of in this move."
He pointed out that older workers may have "more occurrences of more serious illnesses, which can keep them away from work for a longer period of time".
"Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) may also find it more difficult to assign older workers to other jobs which would suit them better, because they may not have that many job openings to start with," he added in Mandarin.
But Mr Heng Chee How, Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office and deputy secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress, said: "If you say you need people and it's very difficult to get (them), and you already have people who are able, who are willing, and who have the experience... it's very logical that you would want to make best use of this pool on a continuing basis."
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