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Govt pushing to extend re-employment age: PM

Help is being offered to older workers who want to work beyond 65 years, he says
Friday, May 2, 2014 - 06:00
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PM Lee: Encourages more older workers to continue working for as long as they can. - PHOTO: DESMOND FOO/THE STRAITS TIMES

[SINGAPORE] The government is throwing its full support behind the tripartite effort to extend the re-employment age in Singapore beyond 65.

Speaking at the annual May Day Rally yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong encouraged more older workers to continue working for as long as they can.

Mr Lee spoke for an hour in both English and Mandarin at the new Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability in Jurong East.

Among the 1,100-strong audience were his wife Ho Ching, cabinet ministers and members of parliament, business leaders, unionists and employers.

"I know older workers (who) want to work beyond 65. I fully understand. The government has started to help them do so," he said, adding that the civil service had already re-employed nearly 800 people above 65 years old.

But he admitted that there was "no simple solution" to making everyone happy. Many seniors, he said, have indicated they would like to retain their current job and salary.

However, older workers, especially those 65 years and older, must realise that they are not as strong as before and would not find it as easy to carry out physical tasks compared to their younger counterparts.

"For older workers to continue working, employers and workers must adjust. Workers must also prepare themselves for jobs they can physically cope with," said Mr Lee.

Rather than having the same job with the same pay, he said that this group of workers should be prepared to do different jobs with different pay instead.

Mr Lee stressed that the government's ultimate objective is to amend the Retirement and Re-employment Act (RRA) to help these workers. He asked for patience, however, as the process would take some time to complete.

The Prime Minister described the RRA, which has been in effect for over two years now, as an important piece of legislation to help older workers stay employed. This law allows those who turn 62 to be re-employed, and reflects the government's commitment to help seniors, noted Mr Lee.

Employers have to offer re-employment to their staff who turn 62, up to the age of 65, so long as they have performed satisfactorily at work and are healthy.

During the last Committee of Supply debate in Parliament in March, Senior Minister of State for Manpower Amy Khor told the House that the government was looking to raise the re-employment age to 67.

In his speech yesterday, Mr Lee also spoke of the need to create better jobs as this would raise the value and dignity of work. This would provide better safety nets than social transfers, he added.

Singapore must stay open and connected to the world, such as by working closely with its neighbours on mutually beneficial projects such as Iskandar Malaysia in Johor and the five Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Parks.

He added that Singapore supports free trade and investments, including the 12-member Trans-Pacific Partnership and the European Union-Singapore free trade agreement as these would expand the country's export markets and attract more foreign investments.

"We want a strong economy in order for us to have good lives for our people. We welcome talent to live, work or play here," said Mr Lee.

Overall, he noted how Singapore has one of the best workforces in the world. He shared how international rankings recognised this fact, with the Business Environment Risk Intelligence - a leading country risk rating agency - ranking Singapore tops for the quality of its workforce.

But he warned that such a lead is never permanent, with "relentless" competition from elsewhere.

"Workers in other countries are cheaper and trying to be faster and better. (This is) not just in poor developing economies, but even the mature and developed ones too," he pointed out.

Mr Lee said that while Singapore's workforce and overall system rank highly, the gap is shrinking with time. "We must maintain our lead, be hard-working and adaptable, and ready to fight for our livelihoods. We must outsmart and out-think our competitors."

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