Laws needed against workplace ageism

I cannot agree more with Dr Yik Keng Yeong that many seniors at the workplace are not only as competent as their younger colleagues, but also understand their organisation, its clients and critical processes better (Stop regarding older workers as financial burdens; Oct 30).

Changes to the Retirement and Re-employment Act represent official acknowledgement that most current white-collar work is knowledge-or technology-based. Therefore, employees are theoretically able to continue their careers well into their 60s and even 70s.

However, urging companies to hire or retain mature staff is an uphill task. As employers are not required to provide reasons for terminating workers, seniors still do not receive protection from age discrimination.

Based on my decades of experience in the corporate world, management is rarely, if ever, swayed by ethical convictions when it comes to hiring or retaining older staff.

Discriminatory practices against older workers may even be seen as a necessary evil to resolve the growing problem of unemployment and underemployment of younger degree holders.

Ageism is widely practised by many employers who consider older workers to be more costly to hire believe that it is tougher for them to acquire new skills, and would rather invest in training and development programmes for younger staff.

It is hardly surprising that mature professionals, managers and executives are the most vulnerable group of workers since they cost their companies more to hire, possess skills that are more employer-specific and are less likely to re-enter the job market within a six-month period after being retrenched.

The Government has acknowledged in Parliament that ageism is a problem in Singapore. However, it has long maintained that putting in place anti-discriminatory laws could increase business costs and undermine economic competitiveness.

Apart from limited provisions protecting older workers or women from being fired because of their age or pregnancy, there is no legislation concerning discrimination in the workplace.

Without legal powers to investigate cases or take errant employers to task, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices may be seen as an organisation that merely holds talks and sends out public awareness messages to advocate fairness in the workplace.

Aggrieved workers would say that such an approach is an exercise in futility.

Edmund Khoo Kim Hock

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 06, 2017, with the headline 'Laws needed against workplace ageism'. Print Edition | Subscribe