Work for as long as you can, says Lim Boon Heng

Former labour chief Lim Boon Heng (centre), with FairPrice chairman Bobby Chin (far left) and Centre For Seniors chairman Tan Kian Chew, ringing a compass bell yesterday to launch a training programme by the Centre For Seniors.
Former labour chief Lim Boon Heng (centre), with FairPrice chairman Bobby Chin (far left) and Centre For Seniors chairman Tan Kian Chew, ringing a compass bell yesterday to launch a training programme by the Centre For Seniors.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

He says working longer can offer health benefits, sense of purpose

The re-employment age will be raised from 65 to 67 in four months, and some people may not like the idea of seniors working longer. But former labour chief Lim Boon Heng said people should work for as long as they can.

"We should work for as long as we are able to work, and want to work, although we should not expect the same pay," he said yesterday.

"Don't be surprised that a few years from now, someone else may be talking about a retirement age which is beyond 70."

Currently, people can retire at age 62, but those who want to continue working can seek re-employment, as long as their work is satisfactory and they are healthy. Employers have to rehire retired workers, in the same or a similar job, until the re-employment age of 65.

Mr Lim, 69, was speaking at the launch of a training programme by the Centre For Seniors, where he is the patron. He also chairs NTUC Enterprise, the social enterprise arm of labour movement National Trades Union Congress (NTUC).

The former minister in charge of ageing issues said that, in the past, more people were resistant to the idea of seniors working longer."In the 1980s, I was scolded by union leaders for proposing that they work longer. At that time, the retirement age was 55," he said.

A survey by the Centre For Seniors last year showed that the majority of those who reach the retirement age want to continue working, but Mr Lim said people usually see the need to keep working only when they reach the retirement age.

"Not many people can look forward to see what life could be... When people reach retirement age, they look at their CPF (Central Provident Fund) savings, bank accounts and commitments, then they... ask if they can afford to retire."

Some can, and some can even retire earlier, but many would still need to continue to work, he said.

Regardless of whether a person has financial reasons for working longer, doing so can give him health benefits, more resilience and a sense of purpose, Mr Lim added.

He urged seniors to acquire new skills to stay relevant. "Retain that sense of curiosity we are born with... With the right attitude, old dogs can learn new tricks," he said.

He also urged the wider community not to underestimate the ability of seniors to cope with the digital world. "Already, they are used to different forms of cashless payments... All that our seniors need is guidance on how to use the devices."

Mr Lim also said NTUC and the Education and Manpower ministries should help people cope with change, and a basic programme should be offered to help seniors be aware of the digital revolution.

"There is no common understanding of what it is... Once people understand it, they could say, 'My work may change because of what's happening, but what am I interested in and what can I pursue?' "

He said simple coding classes could be offered to the elderly, for instance.

The Centre For Seniors also yesterday launched LifeWork, which aims to help address seniors' concerns about career, re-employment, health and family, especially at the "critical age junctions" of 55, 62 and 67. About 330 people aged 40 to 70 took part in at least three of the five workshops when LifeWork was piloted last year.

One of the participants, administrative assistant Hayati Latif, 59, said: "It has prompted me to start planning what I should do in a few years' time. I still want to work and I'm more aware of the need to be healthy, and constantly upgrade myself through training and learning."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2017, with the headline 'Work for as long as you can, says Lim Boon Heng'. Print Edition | Subscribe