Time to scrap retirement age?

Time to scrap retirement age?

SINGAPORE - The employment of seniors is back in the news with two labour stalwarts suggesting last week that the retirement age be raised from 62 to 65 or even 70, and an MP having spoke on their employability in Parliament on Monday.

Mr David Ong of Jurong GRC said he will suggest abolishing the retirement age.

"There's no need to draw a line as long as you feel you can work and employers feel you are of value," he said.

Seniors should be paid based on performance, he added, and not have to negotiate a lower pay upon reaching the statutory retirement age.

Last week, former National Wages Council chairman Lim Chong Yah and former NTUC secretary-general Lim Boon Heng suggested the retirement age be raised to help Singapore deal with the current labour crunch.

Advocates for seniors and political observers said in response that they support measures to help seniors work for longer if they choose to. But they differed on whether to raise the mandatory retirement age or push on with re-employment.

Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy associate dean Donald Low is for raising the retirement age to protect seniors who wish to work for longer from being fired on account of age.

Employers, however, are concerned about the inflexibility that might cause.

They prefer the current approach of requiring employers to re-employ those who turn 62 for three years, up to age 65, provided they are medically fit and have performed satisfactorily. Bosses may give less pay and benefits if duties are cut.

The former president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, Mr Chan Chong Beng, worried that legislating a higher retirement age would mean employers have to "take in somebody whom they don't think is useful".

Dr Kanwaljit Soin, immediate past president of the non-profit Women's Initiative for Ageing Successfully (Wings), disagrees.

Employers can still fire an employee for underperforming. And seniors have much to offer, said the former Nominated MP. "They have loyalty, and as a matter of pride, they try not to take sick leave."

She said: "You live to about 80 years old and retire at 62. What are you going to do for 20 years? You're wasting a lot of manpower and woman power."

She said concerns like medical costs would be covered by national insurance MediShield Life or bosses can negotiate with the staff to buy their own insurance.

She added: "There is ageism and people are not willing to give older people a chance. But we must remember what we do to old people today is what will happen to us tomorrow."

Dr Chiang Hai Ding, former executive director of the non-profit Centre For Seniors, said social attitudes need to change such that it will not be seen as demeaning for seniors to work, even as cleaners if they so choose. He said: "Honest labour should be paid a decent wage. We should learn to respect honest labour."

But seniors who missed out on education in their earlier years and cannot get a better job deserve more help, he added.

Mr Lim, the former labour chief, said the working life of seniors can be extended to 70 not "just by law", but also by the current approach of re-employment, which "allows flexibility".

Labour MP Patrick Tay prefers to let the two-year-old re-employment law run its course, given the initial positive response.

Employed residents aged 55 to 64 rose from 64 per cent in 2012 to 65 per cent last year.

The NTUC and Parliament Speaker Halimah Yaacob, who heads the People's Action Party's seniors advocacy group, are pushing for re-employment to go up to age 67.

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