More laws needed to tackle ageism in the workplace

I read with great concern the Ministry of Manpower's report on the current state of unemployment (Unemployment up as more look for work amid economic pickup; Sept 14).

In a country like Singapore, with a rapidly ageing workforce and an acute talent crunch, one would expect that older workers would be encouraged to remain in employment for as long as possible.

Sadly this is far from the truth based on my experience as a human resource consultant and career and transition coach.

The reality is that private-sector employers often retire employees at age 55 and hire younger workers in their place.

In many cases, older workers who are rehired have to accept lower pay and lower-grade jobs.

These, in my view, are characteristics of ageismin the workplace.

Many workers aged above 55 want to work, but are unable to do so because of bias and outdated employment practices.

I acknowledge that the Government's efforts in enacting the Retirement and Re-employment Act in 2012 have provided employees with some protection against age discrimination.

But, this law, to a large extent, provides only statutory protection for employees against dismissal based on age and for their re-employment upon reaching the specified age.

I would therefore call the Government to implement age discrimination laws similar to those of Britain's Equality Act 2010 and the United States' Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.

These pieces of legislation protect older workers from discrimination on the basis of age in hiring, promotion, discharge, compensation, or terms and conditions of employment or re-employment.

It is regrettable that although local employers are encouraged to follow the Tripartite Guidelines on the Re-employment of Older Employees, which offer good re-employment practices, these guidelines do not have the force of law and are not binding on employers.

The demographics of the Singapore workforce are changing and our employers need to catch up faster.

Improving human resource policies and adopting best practices to tackle the age bias are critical towards ensuring that Singaporeans can work for as long as they want to.

Sattar Bawany (Professor)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2018, with the headline 'More laws needed to tackle ageism in the workplace'. Print Edition | Subscribe