Changes to Re-employment Act do not guard against ageism

The latest changes to the Retirement and Re-employment Act are welcome news for seniors who prefer to work longer ("Older workers can work until age 67 from July"; Jan 10).

However, urging employers to hire or retain mature staff is an uphill task. Having spent decades in the corporate world, I can safely say that management is rarely swayed by ethical convictions when it comes to this issue.

Under the new law, employers still have the flexibility to transfer older employees to their subsidiaries or other companies. If these options are unfeasible, they may terminate them with financial compensation.

This means seniors are still not receiving protection from discrimination based on age.

Workers above 40 made up nearly two-thirds of resident workers who lost their jobs in 2015 ("Middle-aged execs caught in double bind: Survey"; March 22, 2016).

It is hardly surprising that mature professionals, managers, executives and technicians are the most vulnerable group of workers, as they cost their companies more to hire and possess skills that are more employer-specific.

Companies may also believe it is tougher for such workers to acquire new skills, and would rather invest in training and development programmes for younger staff.

They may see the displacement of mature workers as providing opportunities, removing obstacles to gainful employment and helping young adults join the middle class and contribute to the economy.

Discriminatory practices against older workers may even be seen as a necessary evil to resolve the growing problem of unemployment and underemployment of younger workers.

Edmund Khoo Kim Hock

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2017, with the headline 'Changes to Re-employment Act do not guard against ageism'. Print Edition | Subscribe