Singapore's retirement age has to go at some point: DPM Tharman

Mr Tharman says it is critical that older workers be seen as assets to be continually invested in.
Mr Tharman says it is critical that older workers be seen as assets to be continually invested in.

Singapore's retirement age has to go "at some point", said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam at a dialogue at the World Cities Summit yesterday.

It is critical that older workers be seen as assets to be continually invested in, rather than just as add- ons needed because employers cannot find younger workers in a tight labour market, he said.

Mr Tharman, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, was speaking at the opening session of the World Cities Summit at Marina Bay Sands.

He outlined key challenges faced by growing cities, such as ageing societies, at the discussion, Towards A Liveable, Sustainable And Resilient Future.

"Older folks are an asset. They have wisdom, experience and they also learn on the job. We have to make this (integrating older workers) part and parcel of the workplace... We have not done it very well in Singapore so far and we have to do much better in this realm," he said.

His comments were in response to a question by Ambassador-at- large Tommy Koh, who moderated the dialogue between Mr Tharman and the audience of academics, policymakers and industry leaders from across the globe.

Professor Koh asked Mr Tharman if the Singapore Government could abolish compulsory retirement.

"I am 78 years old, I am working full-time and I think many older Singaporeans are like me. They don't dream of playing golf or lying on a beach. We want to continue to work and contribute to society," said Prof Koh.

Mr Tharman said Singapore does not have compulsory retirement but has a retirement age, like many other societies. "At some point, this (retirement age) has to go," he said, adding that older people are assets and they can keep learning even in their 50s or 60s as their brains continue to adapt.

The retirement age in Singapore is 62, though the re-employment age will rise from 65 to 67 next year. Workers turning 62 can opt to retire or continue working until the re-employment age ceiling.

In Parliament this year, Ms Jessica Tan, an MP for East Coast GRC, asked why the Manpower Ministry did not remove the retirement age.

Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said doing so could actually be worse for workers as it means that companies can terminate their employees' services earlier.

The other challenge that comes with an ageing population, said Mr Tharman, is healthcare, which has to be humane, affordable and convenient for people.

For instance, studies abroad have shown that less than 20 per cent of the time a person spends visiting a clinic or hospital is spent seeing the doctor, said Mr Tharman. The rest of the time is spent on travelling, queueing and waiting, and this is especially inconvenient for an older person with disability.

Telemedicine then, said Mr Tharman, is a huge opportunity for cities to tap so that seniors at home have peace of mind, knowing they have a nurse or doctor to get advice from.

In closing, Mr Tharman said innovation is going to be a source of inclusivity. "It is not a contradiction to say that we want a highly innovative society and open society as well as an inclusive society."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2016, with the headline 'Tharman: S'pore's retirement age has to go at some point'. Print Edition | Subscribe