Employers adjust to rehire older staff

English teacher Nirmala Gosain may be 70 but she cannot imagine leaving her job at Temasek Primary School for at least another three years.

She is among a growing number of older workers determined not to end their careers when they reach retirement age.

Companies are redesigning jobs in the face of new legislation that will raise the re-employment age ceiling from 65 to 67 by 2017.

The public service, which implemented the new re-employment age of 67 in January, has seen its older workforce increase threefold in the past four years.

The Public Service Division said that at the end of last year, it employed 1,887 officers aged 65 and above, compared to 534 in 2010.

Mrs Nirmala is a prime example of why mature workers are benefiting their employers.

She prides herself on having taken just six days of medical leave since she was re-hired eight years ago - and they were for only a stubbed toe and a pulled muscle.

"My stamina may not be the same as that of the younger colleagues but I am managing very well," she said. "It is definitely heartening to be re-employed to keep oneself useful and well-occupied with meaningful work."

Since 2012, employers have been required by law to offer re-employment to eligible workers when they reach 62 until they are 65, or at the very least give them one-off payments if they cannot re-hire them.

After that age, a worker can keep on working at their employer's discretion, as in Mrs Nirmala's case.

When Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced plans to extend the re-employment age during his National Day Rally last month, he affirmed a goal of the Government's that had been in the works since 1993.

Madam Chow Kam San, a Ministry of Social and Family Development executive who processes casino self-exclusion forms for foreigners, was re-employed in June after she turned 62.

"Given a choice, I would like to stay employed for as long as I can," she said. "If I have to leave my job, I would be most upset because then I would have to stay home and feel useless."

In the private sector, 99 per cent of local employees who turned 62 in the year ending last June were offered re-employment. Of those who accepted, 91 per cent did not have their basic wages cut, up from 83 per cent the year before. In fact, almost one in 10 received a pay rise upon being re-hired.

Firms are having to plan earlier to retrain or redeploy older workers. A Singapore National Employers Federation (Snef) survey of 200 companies last November showed that 70 per cent felt ready to handle the new re-employment age.

Snef executive director Koh Juan Kiat said: "Companies have to consider making some jobs less physically or mentally demanding or even safer for older workers through automation, job redesign and work process re-engineering."

IT retailer Challenger allows its older staff more flexible working hours, so that they can take time out to go for medical appointments or spend time with family.

Manufacturing firm Infineon Technologies, which has 16 re-employed workers, usually keeps them on in the same department, but also offers them the option to slowly reduce their job scope - by moving into a consulting or training role, for instance, or easing into part-time work.

The 2017 legislation will come too late for Mr Andrew Tan, 64, a senior vice-president at DBS bank who recently gave up the management of some sales and services teams as part of succession planning. He now focuses on talent development.

Mr Tan tries not to worry about whether he will be re-employed after he is 65.

"If I'm offered, and the company feels they value me, I will carry on," he said. "If I feel like I can no longer contribute anything, I would be the first to say so."


Additional reporting by Lester Hio

This article was first published on Sept 13, 2015.
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