Govt supportive of beyond 65 re-employment but at depressed wages

Extending the re-employment age to beyond 65 years is something the Government fully supports and is working towards, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, while he reminded older workers they have to temper their expectations on wages as they age.

Rather than expecting to keep the same job and pay when they are older, workers should be prepared to look at work they are suitable for and that pays them reasonably, given that they could be less able, physically, to cope with certain duties, he noted.

Stressing that there is “no simple solution” to meeting older workers’ hopes that wages will not dip, Mr Lee said: “At age 65, we are not as strong as before … so if older workers want to continue working, employers and workers must make several adjustments.

“Rather than expect ‘same job, same pay’, why not consider ‘suitable jobs, reasonable pay’,” he added.

Mr Lee, who was speaking at the Labour Movement’s May Day Rally, said the Government will continue doing what it can to help those older than 65 to continue working, highlighting that government agencies are already allowing some workers to work beyond 65, with close to 800 civil servants having done so. But he pointed out to the 1,100 unionists, workers and employers in the audience that amending the laws to mandate this will need time, for discussions with employers.

The Retirement and Re-employment Act, from 2012, mandated businesses to offer re-employment up to age 65 to eligible employees who turn 62. But there have been recent calls, such as a motion in Parliament filed by Jurong MP David Ong in January, to do away with the retirement age.

Senior Minister of State (Manpower) Amy Khor had replied then that the minimum statutory retirement age of 62 would stay, although the tripartite partners might consider extending the re-employment age from 65 to 67 “at an appropriate time”.

Yesterday, Singapore National Employers Federation President Stephen Lee reiterated that employers’ chief concerns were the trainability of older workers for other roles, as well as their health. Small and medium companies could face challenges as their job requirements might be less defined and more dynamic than those of bigger corporations, he noted.

Tripartite discussions have gone on in the past year, he said. “Looking at the Nordic countries and more advanced countries where they’ve already moved beyond 65, I think it is only a matter of time for Singapore to also move beyond 65,” he told reporters.

Apart from older workers, whom union leaders had flagged as a vulnerable group needing extra attention, Mr Lee said lower-wage workers are another group the Government is keeping an eye on. He also added that strategies such as the Progressive Wage Model and the Workfare Income Supplement scheme benefit workers more than having a minimum wage could.

Despite having a good workforce, Mr Lee reiterated that “relentless” competition is bearing down on Singapore, not only from poor developing economies but also mature developed ones.

Singaporeans, Mr Lee cautioned, cannot lose the ethos of hard work, as much as they aspire to better work-life balance, relating the experience of a PSA union leader during his recent visit to the Hong Kong Port. While crane operator and port vehicle driver jobs are shunned by Singaporeans due to the shift system and heat, the Hong Kong Port had many locals prepared to work split shifts and go for training in their own time and on their own dime.

Asked why this was so, the union leader was told that they could see millions of hungry workers from mainland China waiting to take their jobs.

Therefore, Singapore must do better than its competitors, said Mr Lee.

“The gap closes and we must maintain our lead, to be hardworking and adaptable, and ready to fight for our livelihoods and outsmart and out-think our competitors,” he said. “We can’t tell our competition to go away. They want to eat our lunch, we know that. They want to eat our dinner, we suspect that. We can’t stop them from wanting, but we can make sure we can hold our own and we will eat our own lunch.”

On their part, companies must also become better by valuing their workers and investing in their training for the long term, he added.

The Government, meanwhile, is helping by rolling out multiple schemes to bump up productivity and provide tax incentives.

“We can provide you the resources and the means to stay one step ahead of the competition and we will have a Singapore system which we can work together to build, to maximise your potential, maximise your contributions.”

Mr Lee also stressed the need to create better jobs — to raise the value and dignity of work — which are better than social transfers.

To do that, Singapore must stay open and connected with the world to stay abreast of changes and gain access to a hinterland far larger than its physical borders. It is working with neighbours such as Malaysia and Vietnam, and supporting free trade and investments with other economies, such as through the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“We must not send the wrong signal that Singapore doesn’t welcome investments or that we are turning away talent. We want to do well; we are doing well for our people. The best way to do that is by being open, big-hearted (and) confident. We compete, we can win. We are not afraid,” said Mr Lee.

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