‘Age discrimination leaves older workers vulnerable’

Older workers in Singapore face “an element of age discrimination”, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam acknowledged yesterday.

It affects both older professionals, managers and executives (PMEs), and older low-wage workers, he said.

Younger PMEs can find jobs quite easily, Mr Tharman noted, adding that Singapore’s youth unemployment rates are “the lowest around, lower even than (in) South Korea and Taiwan”.

In contrast, older PMEs are not just vulnerable to competition from foreigners, he said.

“For our older PMEs, (those who are) middle-aged especially, once they lose their jobs, some of them find it tough to get back in.

“And I believe there’s an element of age discrimination that we have to tackle,” he added.

He made the point when speaking on the importance of ensuring a level playing field for middle-income Singaporeans vis-a-vis foreigners. Similarly, low-income older workers are more vulnerable than their younger counterparts, he said later.

“They have the least education and it is very easy for employers to discriminate against older workers if they want to, even upon what appears to be the basis of merit.”

This is why the labour movement’s progressive wage model is important, he added. Such a model “minimises the downside” for workers, that is, the risk of them losing their jobs, he said, borrowing a phrase labour chief Lim Swee Say had used on Wednesday.

Mr Tharman listed other ways in which the Government is helping older workers stay employable. These range from the Special Employment Credit, a wage subsidy given to bosses for hiring them, to the Workfare Training Support Scheme which subsidises programmes for workers aged 35 and older who earn up to $1,900 a month.

So far, one in five of all workers aged above 50 have taken part in training.

The Government wants to raise that proportion, and the Manpower Ministry will elaborate on it during the debate on its budget, said Mr Tharman.

janiceh@sph.com.sg