The decision to raise the re-employment age to 67 from July 1 next year comes 23 years after the Government first made it clear that it wanted Singaporeans to be able to work until that age. That the move took so long reflects the need for caution in altering the legal structure of the labour market. Precipitate gestures to help workers could backfire if these run up against the grain of business sense. Employers do not willingly shed productive employees, whatever their age. However, if ambitious pro-worker policies oblige them to keep on workers, the temptation would be to terminate their employment altogether. This is why removing the retirement age entirely could result actually in less protection for workers.
What is needed, instead, is an inclusive environment that spurs companies to retain all useful workers, regardless of age, not to mention gender or disabilities that they have been able to rise above. This is the objective which the raising of the re-employment age should achieve. It will give firms two more years to tap into the energies of experienced employees who are physically fit, mentally alert, and psychologically motivated to work. Correspondingly, the removal of a legal provision, which allows companies to cut the wage of employees who turn 60, will help remove the psychological setback faced by older workers who could have felt that accepting a lower salary was the only way for them to stay on at their jobs.
The larger point in all this is for Singapore to move towards a system where age or gender does not skew the treatment of all labour as a resource. Older employees may not possess the physical stamina of younger workers, but they bring to the table the accumulated weight of experience, instincts born of institutional memory, and the adaptive capacities that have enabled them to last so long in the first place. Job-hopping, which deprives firms of the returns on training invested in promising employees, is hardly an issue for people in their 60s. Instead, older workers are likely to contribute their best to companies that have kept faith with them. There is merit in longevity, for employers and employees alike.
At the national level, raising the re-employment age is a logical response to an ageing population, a tight labour market, and residual concerns over the entry of foreigners to shore up Singapore's economic prospects. Also, the longer Singaporeans remained in employment, the more they would benefit themselves and society at large, by demanding less of social support systems. The quid pro quo is, of course, that older employees must adopt a healthy and robust attitude to work. It must not be seen as a chore but as a fundamental aspect of active ageing, one which dignifies an individual's contribution to the nation and its future. The latest move on the labour front should energise Singapore's workers.