Debate on retirement, re-employment age and CPF: Four issues MPs raised

More than 20 MPs spoke on various topics concerning mature workers. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Two Bills on raising the retirement and re-employment age, and on Central Provident Fund (CPF) rules were debated in Parliament on Monday (Nov 1).

More than 20 MPs spoke on various topics concerning mature workers, such as ageism in the workplace and whether a retirement age is still needed.

Manpower Minister Tan See Leng will reply when the debate resumes on Tuesday.

1. Should there be a prescribed retirement age at all?

Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) said continuing to have a minimum retirement age set out in law has a signalling effect on society as to the value of workers above that age, especially if they still want to continue working.

She added that removing the retirement age should not lead to older workers being dismissed as workplace guidelines on anti-discrimination will have the force of law.

"I wish to clarify that I am not advocating that everyone works till they drop dead," she said. "What I am advocating is that instead of having a decision forced on them at a certain age, we empower our seniors to make their own choice in this matter."

She added: "If we are truly anti-ageist, we should leave retirement and re-employment ages to choices made by individuals. And as a safety net, we should enact an anti-discrimination law that prohibits employment decisions based on age."

Associate Professor Jamus Lim (Sengkang GRC) agreed: "With no clear retirement age, employers can no longer use the excuse that hiring a worker with a short runway before they're officially forced to retire would be an inferior business decision compared to hiring a younger worker with no such retirement constraint."

He also noted that abolishing the retirement age does not mean raising the CPF payout eligibility age.

2. Stamping out ageism in the workplace

Several MPs said that although the retirement and re-employment ages might be raised, ageist attitudes can still persist in the workplace.

Mr Henry Kwek (Kebun Baru) said he hopes that specific anti-ageism clauses can be included in the upcoming anti-discrimination legislation to protect older workers. He also suggested exploring new employment models such as micro-jobs and job sharing for senior workers above 60.

Labour MP Heng Chee How (Jalan Besar GRC) said last-mile implementation is important, such as providing more help in between jobs as workers undergo retraining.

"We must not only extend the working ages by law or help make hiring cost-effective through wage subsidies. We must also tie our policies, resourcing, partnerships and implementation more tightly together."

His fellow labour MP Melvin Yong (Radin Mas) added that companies have to change their mindset and see older workers as a worthwhile investment, instead of a hire that comes with government subsidies.

Rather than ever increasing subsidies, firms can get corporate tax incentives if they significantly hire and train senior workers, he suggested.

3. Re-employment issues

Some MPs also brought up the issue of re-employment and how to ensure such contracts are done fairly for older workers.

Ms Mariam Jaafar (Sembawang GRC) said: "Allowing businesses flexibility to make adjustments when offering re-employment contracts continues to be important. But it cannot be at the expense of long-serving employees."

For instance, she said, a resident received fewer retrenchment benefits because the re-employment contract "reset the clock".

Labour MP Patrick Tay (Pioneer) said he is also concerned that more companies are not re-employing existing older workers due to the uncertain outlook, with some resorting to making payouts under the Employment Assistance Payment scheme.

Perhaps this sum can be increased so firms are deterred from just letting go of mature workers, he added. Employers should also be required to state in writing their reasons for making changes to workers' re-employment contracts, or if they choose not to re-employ them, he said.

"This is to avoid a situation whereby companies unilaterally offer significant pay cuts or reduction of employment benefits to the mature worker... while expecting the same standards and deliverables," he said.

4. The age for CPF payouts

Some MPs wanted to confirm that with the raised retirement and re-employment ages, the eligible age for CPF payouts would not change. Others also suggested that the CPF payout age be lowered, and wanted to clarify that those with certain conditions can make withdrawals earlier.

MPs Cheryl Chan (East Coast GRC), Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) and Ng Ling Ling (Ang Mo Kio GRC) commented on a section that said withdrawals can be made by members suffering from significant conditions, and asked what those conditions are.

Associate Professor Jamus Lim (Sengkang GRC) said that the Workers' Party had called for the CPF payout age to be lowered to 60, so that those nearing retirement can make other choices such as taking on a new part-time job while having an income supplement.

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