“Responding to a question on the challenges of a greyer workforce to the country, Mr. Lee said older Singaporeans at the workplace might find it difficult to accept pay cuts or have younger colleagues succeed them” (MM: Work As Long As You Can, Mr. Kenny Chee).
The report “MM: Work As Long As You Can” (July 29, 2010) by Mr. Kenny Chee: the subject of retirement and the imminent rise in the retirement age have been considerably interesting, primarily because of Singapore’s struggles with a gradually ageing population. Given our country’s demographic construct, declining birth rate and evolving local economic workforce – without taking into account the influx of foreign workers and professionals – how our elderly population is empowered would have significant impact on our overall socio-economic outlook in years to come. Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew is somewhat justified in his assertion that the continued productivity and contribution of the older workers – especially the white-collared employees – in the workforce would be considerably beneficial for the fiscal performance of the country.
However, it would not be fair to make the assertion that all older workers would definitely be able to reap the same benefits of continued engagement and fulfilment regardless of their careers or professions. Without doubt, white-collared and moderate blue-collared workers would be able to contribute favourably in advisory positions, as they hand over the reins to the younger generations. With reduced responsibilities and limited bodily-exertions, many are more than happy to remain in their roles and remain in touch with their choice jobs. Regrettably, the same cannot be said for the others.
It is unfortunate that some individuals continue to work for long hours in physically-demanding positions, and sometimes under tremendous circumstantial stress and pressures. It is not an uncommon sight to see older workers clearing plates in food centres, and cleaning various public areas and offices so as to make ends meet. Because of their probable lack of education, lack of access to privileges since young and the spiralling cost of living, they are subjected to a lifetime of wage work for themselves and for their families. Despite working conscientiously and consistently throughout their lives, they continue to struggle with daily necessities, loans, healthcare, housing et cetera.
Perhaps the most ideal proposal to deal with an ageing workforce would be to facilitate individuals through a transition process based on their respective needs. Convince employers to engage them in less strenuous job-scopes, and introduce flexi-working hours to seek optimal conditions for the execution of duties. More importantly, beyond the yearly cash hand-outs and ad-hoc help schemes, there needs to be more coordinated and effectual assistance programmes to provide support to the people who genuinely need them.
The basis of a retirement age is positive because it subtly acts as an ending-point for individuals who have worked hard and contributed to the economy for decades; its eradication might conversely push the older workers without granting them the rest they rightfully deserve. Ultimately, the decision on whether to retire is premised upon the individual – as well as a plethora of concerns over his family, capabilities and health conditions – instead of enforcing public pressures over the need to work and work.
A version of this article was published in My Paper.