Govt 'prepared to study' eldercare leave

Minister of State for Manpower Sam Tan said that "with extended lifespans and improved health among seniors, there will be scope to raise the age of re-employment further again over time".
Minister of State for Manpower Sam Tan said that "with extended lifespans and improved health among seniors, there will be scope to raise the age of re-employment further again over time".ST FILE PHOTO

Firms will get time to adjust if idea gets nod; no plans to raise retirement and re-employment ages for now

The idea of paid eldercare leave will be studied by the Government, but the door to raising the retirement and re-employment ages is closed for now.

And should such leave be given the official nod, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee assured employers that they will be given time to adjust.

"While we are prepared to study the idea of senior care leave in consultation with tripartite partners, we should allow some time for businesses to adjust and adapt to recent enhancements," he said yesterday, referring to changes to family leave policies such as maternity and paternity leave in past few years.

Mr Lee was responding to calls in Parliament from Mr Henry Kwek (Nee Soon GRC) and Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC) to legislate eldercare leave, during a debate on how to better support seniors.

Mr Kwek had tabled the motion, on behalf of the People's Action Party Seniors Group, for the House to discuss the topic. He suggested giving each Singaporean four days of leave a year if they have to look after parents older than 70 and have fewer than 14 days of annual leave.

The Government had previously resisted calls to legislate paid eldercare leave. Instead, it preferred to encourage employers to have family-friendly policies, such as flexible care leave for workers to care for their children or parents.

As for raising the re-employment age, Minister of State for Manpower Sam Tan said it was too soon, as it was pushed up to 67 last year.

Workers can retire at 62 if they choose to do so, but employers are required to re-employ those who are healthy and performing well, up to 67.

Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC) suggested raising the retirement age to 65 and the re-employment age to 70, while Dr Lily Neo (Jalan Besar GRC) said some people felt the age cap should be abolished.

Mr Tan assured the House that though there are no immediate plans to consider lifting the re-employment age, it may change in the future. "With extended lifespans and improved health among seniors, there will be scope to raise the age of re-employment further again over time," he said, without setting any date. "This will be a matter for tripartite deliberations."

A total of 12 backbenchers spoke in the debate, which covered a wide range of issues such as the financial worries of seniors, housing options, strengthening community support for them, providing more help for caregivers and encouraging volunteerism.

Ms Pereira suggested encouraging seniors to volunteer by letting them "bank in" the hours they volunteer with the People's Association to exchange for free courses.

Mr Kwek wanted the Government to draw up specific development guidelines so that old condominiums like Pearl Bank and even churches can build housing for seniors.

Two other office-holders also spoke in the debate. Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information, highlighted programmes to help seniors keep up with digital changes, while Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor outlined measures to help the elderly cope with healthcare worries.

The motion won the backing of both sides of the House during the four-hour debate.

Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera, the only Workers' Party MP to speak, called on the Government to produce a blueprint to make society more inclusive for seniors.


Correction note: This story has been edited for clarity. 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 07, 2018, with the headline 'Govt 'prepared to study' eldercare leave'. Print Edition | Subscribe