Parliament: NTUC deputy secretary-general Heng Chee How calls for review of statutory retirement age

Singapore's ageing population will have growing healthcare needs and will likely place a strain on government revenues in the future as more older people exit the workforce. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - NTUC deputy secretary-general Heng Chee How has called for the statutory retirement age to be reviewed, and suggested a new tripartite committee be formed to look at how to help older people work longer.

Singapore's ageing population will have growing healthcare needs and will likely place a strain on government revenues in the future as more older people exit the workforce, he said. This will also constrain the ability of companies to grow.

Speaking on the first day of the Budget debate on Tuesday (Feb 27), Mr Heng said that the longer Singapore's mature citizens can remain earning an income, "the more they can help contribute to tax revenue and pay for their own needs, delaying and reducing the need for younger citizens and companies to have to chip in earlier than necessary".

This year, for the first time, the proportion of Singaporeans below 15 years old equals that of those above 65 years old, he added, and the older group will grow in years to come.

Since it was legislated in 1993, the retirement age has been raised only once, from 60 to 62, in 1999. The re-employment age was introduced in 2012, making it compulsory for employers to offer eligible workers re-employment up to the age of 65 or a one-off payment if no job is available. This age ceiling was raised to 67 last year.

Mr Heng, who is Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office, noted that the raising of the retirement or re-employment age to 67 was contained in the recommendations of the Tripartite Committee on the Extension of the Retirement Age back in July 1997, and has now been achieved after 20 years.

Mr Heng, an MP for Jalan Besar GRC, suggested a new tripartite committee be formed to - among other things - look at three aspects of this issue:

- Assess the effective retirement age, or the age at which people declare themselves retired, and recommend measures to further raise the employment rate of older workers;

- Consider whether there is still a need for a statutory retirement age or re-employment age ceiling, as performance-based employment practices are becoming more common;

- If the statutory retirement age and re-employment age ceiling are still necessary, to clarify the conditions under which the ceiling of 67 could be further raised, and to what age.

While different industries and occupation types may have different constraints for older workers, investments in the use of assistive technology and job redesign will help to compensate for lower physical abilities, he said.

But he is concerned about older workers facing higher hurdles in adapting to new jobs, as technological disruption may fundamentally change entire occupations and job categories.

To help older workers cope, more programmes should be rolled out to build confidence in digital technologies - "the new basic language in the world of work", as Mr Heng put it - such as in working with robotics and using data smartly.

Other labour MPs also spoke about measures to help various groups of workers.

Focusing on younger workers, Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC) said the industry transformation maps, which are road maps for changes in key sectors here, need to be better explained to businesses, workers and students so they can prepare themselves.

He said that 83 per cent of 400 students in universities and private educational institutions surveyed in January this year had not heard about the road maps, according to a survey by the labour movement's youth wing Young NTUC.

Those who had heard about them were not confident that they fully understood the information.

"This is a concern. It means that for most students, the industry that they are studying hard for, would have changed in no small measure by the time they graduate. But they would not know this until they entered the workforce," said Mr Choo.

Mr Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC) said more can be done to encourage employers to invest in staff development, as well as to roll out more bite-sized training options, especially to help professionals, managers and executives whose jobs are at risk due to economic transformation.

Nominated MP K. Thanaletchimi suggested making workplaces more family-friendly, and asked the Government to consider mandating the right to request flexible work arrangements, as some women are denied these.

As for freelancers, Mr Ang Hin Kee (Ang Mo Kio GRC) suggested government agencies review the operations of gig platforms, to ensure they do not exploit freelancers by not paying them promptly or by making sudden changes to the pay structure or commission scheme.

Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) called for more support for low-wage workers, such as making the annual wage supplement mandatory.

Mr Melvin Yong (Tanjong Pagar GRC) spoke about workplace safety and health, and suggested the return-to-work grant, started last November to help small companies pay for workplace adjustments and therapy for injured workers, be extended to large corporations.

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