Singapore Budget 2014: Tripartite partners working on extending re-employment age

SINGAPORE - Older workers may face the prospects of working beyond the age of 65. Unions, employers and the Government have agreed to work on extending the re-employment age of workers to 67, Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Heng Chee How said on Monday.

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Mr Heng posted the following on his Facebook page on Monday:

In Parliament today, I said: "Going forward, I see two additional areas that we must pay attention to. The first is accord the post-Pioneer generation and employers with greater clarity over long term CPF savings rates. NTUC has urged tripartite partners to come together to further discuss the updating the 2003 set of long term rates. This is necessary as the current rates have been surpassed in many instances. This subject has been widely covered in the media recently.

The second area is that of helping seniors in areas beyond healthcare expenditure. This year's Budget already contains examples in this area. For example, the new discounted Fare card for seniors will help older workers who have to travel frequently to lower transport expenditure. The special one-off Senior Bonus GST Voucher in this year's budget doubled the amount that older, lower- and middle-income seniors will receive compared to the normal GST voucher and will help with coping with cost of living. All these additional help and support rendered to seniors are much appreciated. At the same time, I note that the needs that these measures help address are also not one-off occurrences but are part and parcel of living in Singapore.

In terms of understanding needs, I find the Chinese saying 衣食住行医教 very useful. I suggest that the Government make a list of the various seniors-centric cash and cash-equivalent grants and subsidies it is giving. Perhaps divide them into healthcare-related and others. Healthcare to seniors is a big worry because of the fear of very big bills. But that does not happen all the time. The other categories tend to incur expenditures that are more recurrent and related to cost of living generally.

For the recurrent category, I suggest that the Government consider which of the grants and subsidies can be made permanent and/or enhanced. For example:

- Can the Government consider buying the public transport Fare cards for seniors beyond a certain age who apply for them, and help them save money for other uses?

- Can Government think of a way to overcome the worry of seniors that they outlive the remaining lease under the lease buy back scheme so that seniors across more flat types can get cash from their housing investment, and at the same time know that they can age in place with peace of mind?

- For workers on Workfare Income Supplement support who are no longer offered employment past the prevailing reemployment age ceiling (and not because they don't want to continue working), can Government consider a different kind of basic support to help cope?

- Can Government make permanent the GST Voucher Senior's Bonus, remove the complexity of different Annual Property Value tiers of disbursement and review the amount and disbursement intervals periodically so as to regularly support ALL our seniors, and enable them all to cope better?

I continue to firmly believe in the importance of self-help and family support, and of ensuring fiscal prudence and sustainability. At the same time, I believe that there are still various ways to tweak and enhance existence schemes and programmes as well as to consider new ones to further strengthen the confidence and resilience of our senior population.

I urge Government to examine this area more closely, and see how such support can be further developed to take into account the recurrent nature of certain significant costs faced by our seniors. That would then reinforce our social safety net for our seniors, and add to ongoing efforts to partner our seniors to 'live well and with greater peace of mind'."

It was against this backdrop of wanting to increase lifetime earnings that I advocated for the early implementation of legislated re-employment beyond the statutory retirement age of 62. I am happy that the tripartite partners agreed on this and Parliament passed the re-employment law in January 2011 to mandate re-employment from 62 to 65 years old. That law took effect from January 2012. At its most basic, this has enabled entire cohorts of seniors to continue to earn income for at least 3 more years.

The employment rate of workers in the (55 to 64) age bracket and even the (65 to 69) age bracket have further improved since 2012, both because of a tight labour market and also because older workers have proven their worth at work. With life expectancy continuing to rise, I firmly believe that the re-employment age ceiling need not and cannot stagnate at 65.

This was why I pushed last year for the re-employment age ceiling to be further raised in the next step from 65 to 67 once tripartite efforts have been focussed on consolidating the strengths of the legislated re-employment experience and come to terms with the measures that need to be put in place to enable that movement from 65 to 67. If I succeed in this, older workers will have the opportunity to earn income for at least 2 more years. I am glad that tripartite partners have now agreed to work on this issue, and I would continue to advocate for it to bear fruit as soon as possible."