Budget 2018 debate

Call for panel to help older Singaporeans work longer

Labour MP also urges review of retirement age, digital tech training for older workers

MR HENG CHEE HOW, NTUC deputy secretary-general as well as Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office and an MP for Jalan Besar GRC

NTUC deputy secretary-general Heng Chee How wants a review of the retirement age, which currently is 62. He also suggested that a tripartite committee be formed to look at how to help older people work longer.

"The longer our mature citizens can remain employed and earning, 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," he said on the first day of the Budget debate.

With an ageing population, more older Singaporeans will leave the workforce, constraining the ability of companies to grow and placing more strain on government revenue, he added.

This year, for the first time, the proportion of Singaporeans above 65 years old is the same as the proportion of those below 15 years old, and the older group will grow in years to come, said Mr Heng, who is Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office and an MP for Jalan Besar GRC.

The retirement age was first legislated in 1993 and was raised once in 1999 from 60 to 62.

In 2012, a re-employment age was introduced, 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.

An earlier tripartite committee which made recommendations in 1997 had studied how to progressively raise the statutory retirement age to 67.

Mr Heng suggested a new tripartite committee be formed to:

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

• Consider if a statutory retirement age or re-employment age ceiling is still necessary, as performance-based employment practices are becoming more common;

• Clarify the conditions under which the ceiling of 67 could be further raised, and to what age, if the age ceiling is still necessary.

Mr Heng also suggested more programmes be rolled out to build older workers' confidence in digital technologies, "the new basic language in the world of work", as he put it. This includes knowing how to work with robotics and using data smartly. Digital skills can help older workers cope with job changes caused by technological disruption, he said.

Singapore National Employers Federation executive director Koh Juan Kiat said the issues raised by Mr Heng are "important issues for the tripartite partners to address".

But he said the re-employment age was just extended last July, adding: "We will need to monitor the responses from both employers and workers for the time being."

The Manpower Ministry is expected to address the issue during the debate on its budget next week.

Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh also spoke during the debate about improving support for older women, who may be disadvantaged when returning to work after a break. "By the time women try to return to the workforce, they face the triple challenges of making sure their skills stay relevant, discrimination against older workers, and wage stagnation compared to their male peers," he said.

This is exacerbated as older women have, on average, lower Central Provident Fund balances than older men and spend more years in disability than men, he added.

He suggested that social service and community development agencies which place the elderly in jobs could help them draw up favourable contracts and provide them with retraining opportunities to improve their income prospects.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 28, 2018, with the headline Call for panel to help older Singaporeans work longer. Subscribe