Reality of workplace ageism

Mr Simon Owen Khoo Kim San made some astute observations about why many employers do not consider mature employees as assets, in terms of increased productivity or cost savings for their companies ("Difficulties in hiring older workers"; last Friday).

Unfortunately, his candid comments about how older workers are viewed by the majority of employers appear to have been misinterpreted by Mr Chia Eng Wah ("Growing old not an option"; Tuesday) and Mr Francis Cheng ("Don't stereotype older workers"; Forum Online, Sunday).

Mr Khoo's observations are accurate for the most part, but never at any point did he advocate setting age limits for hiring.

He has only drawn our attention to the way many employers view older workers.

The Government has acknowledged that ageism is a problem in Singapore.

However, it has long maintained that putting in place anti-discrimination laws could increase business costs and undermine our economic competitiveness.

Such an assertion does not seem to be borne out, as the global competitiveness of places with anti-discrimination laws, such as the United States, Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Japan, Finland and Sweden, remains strong.

The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) has taken the cue from our leaders by adopting an educational approach to promote fair employment practices.

This low-key approach is undoubtedly beneficial for employers.

However, it does not appear to help mature workers receive the protection they deserve if they find it difficult to find new work or retain their jobs because of prejudice rather than performance.

As long as there are no specific anti-discrimination laws in place, older workers will consider making official complaints nothing more than a waste of time.

Companies will claim that too much protection may not be good, but it can be argued that Singapore has far too little.

As an older worker, I can only thank other Singaporeans who draw attention to discriminatory practices at the workplace instead of labelling such observations erroneously as discriminatory comments.

Khoo Kim Leng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2015, with the headline 'Reality of workplace ageism'. Print Edition | Subscribe