06 January 2012

Re-employment and our Silver Workforce

06 January 2012

On Cheong Jewellery has more than a quarter of its 42 employees aged 62 and above. When they automated their sales and accounting systems, the company paired older staff with younger, more tech-savvy colleagues to help them with the transition. On Cheong also helps its older employees upgrade themselves by sending them for English language courses, as well as courses on operations management, service quality and service team leadership.

On Cheong has embraced a multi-generational workforce. I hope that this can become the norm where tapping on our Silver Workforce’s deep well of knowledge and lifetime of experience would become second nature.

Staff from On Cheong Jewellery
1st January 2012 was a milestone in the tripartite partners’ journey towards re-employment of older workers from age 62 to 65 – the effective date of the Retirement and Re-employment Act (RRA). This is something we have been steadfastly preparing our employers and workers here for since 2007.

All companies and businesses operating in Singapore are now required to re-employ older workers past the age of 62 - if the employee is healthy and able to continue to contribute to their organisations.

The key to success lies with our ability to change ageist mindsets and embrace more enlightened attitudes.

As Singaporeans stay healthy and live longer, many can and desire to continue working from age 62 to 65 and beyond. It keeps them active and maintains their dignity as a contributor to our society. Some may also need to sustain a regular income and build up their retirement adequacy. Today, our parents are part of the Silver Workforce. Tomorrow, it would be our turn, and our children’s turn thereafter. How do we want to be treated?

On Cheong’s heartening story is but one of the many tripartite partners have encountered, and we believe we are on the right track. MOM’s 2010 Survey on Retirement and Re-employment Practices showed that the proportion of companies that allowed their employees to work past 62 has increased significantly from 64% in 2009 to 77% in 2010.  Among the 9,900 local employees reaching the age of 62 in the year ending June 2010, 94% were allowed to work beyond 62. At a broader level, the employment rate of resident workers aged 55 to 64 increased from 56.2% in 2007 to a high of 61.2% in 2011.

We are now at the stage to translate policy into reality even as companies look forward to contending with the ups and downs of the economy. A recent media story asked if we should have delayed the RRA effective date until the economy is on the upswing.

There is no good time to do this. By 2020, about one in six Singapore residents will be 65 years or older. Having a Silver Workforce is an inevitable fact.

The new re-employment law provides sustainable employment opportunities for workers beyond age 62. As we work on easing our reliance on foreign manpower, we should tap on this pool of older workers to complement our staffing. Companies who move on this front early will learn how to thrive with an older workforce.

One of the main concerns is that workers might be short-changed in the re-employment process through arbitrary wage cuts.

The Tripartite Guidelines, crafted in close consultation with stakeholders and the public, are founded on flexibility to meet each party’s needs. Re-employment means older workers can take on a different or adapted job, and companies can adjust job terms and conditions (including wages) based on reasonable factors. The Guidelines offer companies and older employees practical suggestions on starting discussions on re-employment early, effectively staying engaged throughout the discussions and reaching a mutually desirable re-employment arrangement.

We will keep a close watch on this front. I would like to urge employers not to cut wages or other terms automatically. You should be fair - making adjustments based on reasonable factors and in line with the job scope and value as well as the extent of seniority-based elements in companies’ wage structures.

Similarly, workers should be open-minded about new job options and adjustments. Continually upgrade yourselves to enhance your employability. Help is available: approach your unions or MOM if you strongly feel the re-employment offer is unreasonable despite efforts at reaching a mutual agreement.

This is an opportunity for us to build a dynamic and experienced workforce that will stand Singapore in good stead. Draw on this wealth of experience and maturity even as we ease our reliance on foreign manpower.

Most importantly, look after our people. Respect our elders and treat them as we would like to be treated when our turn comes.

MOS Tan Chuan-Jin
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