Budget debate: S'pore has to press on with schedule to raise CPF rates, retirement and re-employment ages, says Heng Chee How

The tripartite partners of unions, employers and government had agreed to raise the statutory retirement age from 62 to 65.
The tripartite partners of unions, employers and government had agreed to raise the statutory retirement age from 62 to 65.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Singapore has to press on with its timetable to raise Central Provident Fund (CPF) contribution rates, as well as its schedule to raise the retirement and re-employment ages, said labour MP Heng Chee How.

These measures are important in helping older workers build their retirement adequacy, alongside other initiatives such as flexible work arrangements and skills renewal, he added on Wednesday (Feb 24).

Mr Heng (Jalan Besar GRC), who is also the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) deputy secretary-general and Senior Minister of State for Defence, said: "The tripartite partners have taken to legislation to ensure older workers have the opportunity to work longer by raising the retirement and re-employment ages. After all, being employed is the best safety net, and companies need workers," he said during the debate on the Budget.

"This schedule was first put in place by the tripartite partners to enhance the retirement and re-employment framework, strengthen older workers' retirement adequacy and further promote progressive workplaces that value older workers."

The tripartite partners of unions, employers and government had agreed to raise the statutory retirement age from 62 to 65, and the re-employment age ceiling from 67 to 70 progressively over the coming decade. This will start with a new retirement age of 63 and re-employment age of 68 from July 2022.

Mr Heng noted that more than 100 firms have raised either the retirement age or re-employment age, or both. The civil service and NTUC social enterprises will also raise the retirement and re-employment ages ahead of schedule.

CPF contribution rates for older workers were also set to increase from Jan 1 this year, but was deferred amid the pandemic to Jan 1 next year.

"The labour movement... supported that deferment because we understood that in the depth of that disruption, the most important thing is employment. We didn't want to put our older workers at an unnecessary greater risk of losing their jobs," Mr Heng said.

"Yet, we must be careful to keep pace with our original intent and purpose of helping older workers enhance their retirement adequacy, given our longer lifespans... Therefore, we must be careful not to kick the can down the road further, because it will negatively impact retirement adequacy and will come back to bite us earlier and harder."

He called for the raising of CPF contributions and retirement and re-employment ages to proceed without further delay.

"At the same time, I also urge the Government to help employers defray the cost of their enhanced CPF contributions through the CPF Transition Offset, as was the plan prior to the deferment," Mr Heng said.

He also urged the Government to step up specific, industry-focused efforts to help senior workers keep their jobs in distressed sectors such as aviation and retail.

It can also support companies in adopting flexible work arrangements more widely, so that middle-aged workers can carry out their caregiving duties without having to give up their jobs.

Importantly, older workers have to be included in skills-building initiatives, he added.

"We must not let the progress achieved through painful adaptation during the pandemic... be wasted and allow old mindsets and prejudices to return to stymie us," he said.

"Otherwise, fast-changing business models and technology will displace senior workers at ever faster speeds, leading to the negative scenarios we dread."

The health of older workers also has to be safeguarded, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic, he added.

"I urge the Government and the tripartite partners to work together to see how best to leverage science-based, cost-effective vaccination to enhance business resilience and senior worker health," he said.

"This will help forestall potential discrimination against senior workers' employment or employability on account of perceived higher risks of infection."