Allow seniors to work as long as they are physically, mentally fit

Mr Tyler Cowen is right in saying that many older people want to work more than in previous generations (Ageism scarier than robot apocalypse; May 22).

Our health and longevity have been improving, which means that jobs which previously could not be done effectively by workers after their late 50s now can be.

We should thus outlaw the re-employment age limit of 67, and allow seniors to work as long as they are physically and mentally fit. Helping to keep the elderly active and engaged in society gives them purpose and meaning in life.

Not everyone can afford the luxury of retiring at 67 as well. They would have to depend on other family members if they do so, and may become a burden. Some people may also have started working at a later age, and may need to work longer to save up money.

The existing retirement-age rules appear especially unfair to some categories of workers, such as pilots and air-traffic controllers. Because their jobs require specific, non-transferable skills, early job separation results in longer spells of unemployment or forced retirement, despite these workers possessing the ability to perform their jobs competently.

The mandatory limit to the re-employment age is thus discriminatory.

It ignores the reality that older employees can continue to be productive, while enforcing stereotypes about seniors, like getting sick often or not being able to handle change.

Helping to keep the elderly active and engaged in society gives them purpose and meaning in life.

None of these is true and it is harmful to implement policies based on such prejudices.

Keeping on older workers does not deprive younger employees of jobs either. Jobs are plentiful in Singapore for the young.

But, as baby boomers exit the workforce, the burden on the working generation to support a larger retiree population that is living longer will increase. It will also likely create manpower shortages in many sectors.

Having a fixed retirement age means that those who are less qualified remain in the workforce just because they are younger than the mandatory retirement age, while better-qualified workers are forced to retire.

Therefore, the issues of re-employment and retirement require further examination.

Cheng Choon Fei

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2018, with the headline 'Allow seniors to work as long as they are physically, mentally fit'. Print Edition | Subscribe