A recent survey on ageism at the workplace revealed that age discrimination is a prevalent problem experienced by both younger and older generations in Singapore.
From interviews done by the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) with older female family caregivers, we understand that the concerns and impact of ageism are amplified for caregivers.
The women we interviewed, all aged between 45 and 65 years old, experienced negative changes to their employment status once they became caregivers to their older family members. At the time of the interviews, only five out of 22 were in full-time employment.
Many were worried that their old age would be a disadvantage when they try to re-enter the workforce after their care recipient dies.
Also discouragingly, some had experienced age discrimination, for example, being ignored at job fairs by recruiters or dismissed by interviewers because they were visibly old.
The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) stated last year that on a national level, those providing caregiving (excluding childcare) to family members or relatives had been out of work for a median time period of nine years. Three-quarters of such caregivers were aged 50 and above. Their ability to re-enter the job market after not being employed for close to a decade is, unsurprisingly, limited, as job conditions would have changed significantly and their skills may have become obsolete.
In Singapore, there is limited protection against age and other forms of discrimination.
For instance, some laws provide protection against dismissal based on age, but do not apply to other areas such as hiring and promotion.
The Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices also recognise age as one of the grounds on which discrimination may occur.
MOM may take administrative action against recalcitrant employers, including curtailing their work pass privileges, but these actions do not provide for a legal right to remedy for workers, for example, reinstatement or compensation.
To protect the rights of all workers, we strongly encourage enacting comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, to prohibit discrimination on the basis of age, gender, family responsibilities, disabilities, race, and so on.
Legislation defines a clear, legal responsibility for employers to not discriminate, and provides for legal remedies for discrimination.
Chong Ning Qian
Senior Executive, Research