2 May 2013
No one-size-fits-all approach to re-employment
Neo Chai Chin
Govt to do more to ensure older employees can continue working for as long as possible
SINGAPORE — The Government will do more to help workers who want to work beyond the age of 65, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday, and it will take a “practical approach” so that as many as possible can continue working for as long as possible.
Many workers want to work beyond the current minimum retirement age of 62, and employers have been mandated by law since last year to offer re-employment to eligible workers who turn 62, up to the age of 65.
“But 65 is not the end. I know many workers want to continue even beyond 65 and the Government encourages this too,” said Mr Lee at the National Trades Union Congress’ (NTUC) May Day Rally. He said the Government will see how the Retirement and Re-employment Act works out, then “progressively do more”.
“We need to and we will,” he told the audience of 1,600 unionists, NTUC staff and other guests at Downtown East.
But the approach will not be one-size-fits-all — simply pushing up the retirement age or compelling employers to hire all workers regardless of their conditions, for instance — as workers’ health, the nature of their jobs and companies’ needs have to be taken into account.
“Some people can work beyond 70, health permitting,” said Mr Lee, citing hospital workers and taxi drivers. “And if they can, we will find ways to help people to work longer.”
On their part, older employees will need to be flexible about job responsibilities and status. They must also be willing to pick up new skills and stay fit and healthy, said Mr Lee.
The Government is helping this group in other ways: The GST Vouchers scheme, Medisave top-ups, Special Employment Credit and WorkPro scheme, which helps employers to hire and retain older workers.
A review of healthcare and housing policies is also under way and Mr Lee said it was only right to take care of them.
“I think this is a special older generation, the one which helped to build today’s Singapore.”
Employers, however, said Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) President Stephen Lee, would need to examine with their tripartite partners the implications of having even older workers.
Firms could have concerns such as higher healthcare costs and “possibly more occurrence of longer illnesses”. As such, they could need “safeguards” such as health checks and ways to ensure that an older worker is able to meet job demands, he said.
SNEF has learnt from previous experience with re-employment of older workers to prepare early, work the ground and get companies on board even before the introduction of the law.
LOW-WAGE WORKERS AND PMES
Two other groups Mr Lee singled out yesterday were lower-wage workers and Professionals, Managers and Executives (PMEs).
PMEs make up 25 per cent of union membership, which could be better, he said. Tripartite partners are looking at how more can be done.
As for the lower income, the Progressive Wage models gradually being rolled out for 12 sectors, including cleaning and OPEC (Oil, Petrochemical, Energy and Chemical), mean workers will have a more decent starting pay and wage ladder to move up.
General Secretary of the Amalgamated Union of Public Daily Rated Workers G Muthukumarasamy told reporters many members in his union earn S$1,200 to S$1,300 a month and he hoped their salaries could rise to S$1,700 after upgrading courses. “To me Singaporeans are not choosy (about jobs). They want the salary to be good because cost of living is high,” he said.
For wages to rise, however, the economy must grow, said Mr Lee. Otherwise, higher wages for some workers would mean lower wages for others, lower profits for companies or Government deficits. “Government transfers or protection cannot be the fundamental basis on which to improve lives,” he said.
Singapore must also be careful as it tightens up on foreign workers and safeguards the interests of Singaporean PMEs. It must not send investors the signal that it is turning away talent or investments, he said.
“We have made a name for ourselves — not necessarily the cheapest place but a competitive and dynamic city that’s worth paying the premium for. And we must keep that reputation because otherwise, we’re dead.”