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New work group to examine policies related to older workers

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Mrs Teo (above) said the needs and interests of workers and businesses must be balanced.

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She also said that Singapore needs to make the best of its greying population (above) to strengthen its workforce.

Singapore

A NEW work group with high-level representatives from the unions, employers and the government will be set up to address older workers' concerns as Singapore's workforce ages, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo announced on Monday.

Among other matters, it will consider Singapore's next moves on the retirement and re-employment age, and review the longer-term relevance of these policies.

It will also examine the Central Provident Fund (CPF) contribution rates for older workers and their impact on retirement adequacy.

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Mrs Teo was speaking at the Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) Work Plan seminar at the Singapore Expo, where she outlined the challenges that Singapore's employers and workers face, and how her ministry intends to tackle them.

In her first major speech since taking over as Manpower Minister this month, she noted that one in three of Singapore's resident workers today is aged 50 and above.

They "have anxieties about the future, particularly as technology disrupts businesses and jobs", she said, noting that labour MPs have raised such concerns in Parliament this year, including the recent one on the President's Address.

MPs who have done so include labour chief Ng Chee Meng who mooted a committee to help mature workers to continue working if they choose to.

The creation of the tripartite work group comes in the wake of some calls for Singapore's retirement and re-employment ages to be relooked. There have also been some concerns about whether older workers have enough to retire on.

The statutory retirement age has been fixed at 62 for the past two decades. It was raised just once, from 60 to 62, in 1999. But companies must offer re-employment to eligible workers up to age 67; this was upped from 65 to 67 in July last year.

As for CPF savings, older workers aged above 55 now have lower contribution rates, ranging from 12.5 per cent to 26 per cent of their wages, compared to 37 per cent for those who are younger.

Given the seriousness of the matter, said Mrs Teo, the new tripartite work group will be chaired by MOM permanent secretary Aubeck Kam. It will comprise representatives from the unions, employers and the government; Mrs Teo, Mr Ng and Singapore National Employers Federation Robert Yap will be the advisors.

The work group will look at how it can build an inclusive workforce and progressive workplaces that value older workers, said the minister.

In her speech, Mrs Teo sketched out the broader picture of challenges that Singapore faces.

One of them is what she called "the demographic disruption", due to the twin trends of falling birth rates and lengthening life expectancies.

In response, Singapore needs to make the best of its ageing population to strengthen the workforce, she said.

The first question it has to grapple with is: "Should we continue to assume that most people do not work beyond age 64?", she asked.

The second question is how an older population can be turned into "a competitive edge for our economy and society", she said.

"For employers... how to make sure we help them adjust HR (human resources) strategies to better tap the senior workforce?"

Mrs Teo also dwelled at length on the importance of tripartism.

Disruption to global businesses and its uncertain impact on familiar work arrangements could cause the interests of employers and workers to diverge, she warned.

"We should expect tripartism to come under pressure and should be careful not to be swept up by our anxieties.

"For example, nudging one party to push for actions that fail to balance interests of other parties." This could easily cause a breakdown of trust, and the damage done will be very hard to repair, she added.

Such a breakdown of trust elsewhere has led to political disruption such as Brexit, she noted. "A breakdown of trust is often at the root of political disruption, which is a very noisy affair," she said.

And so MOM must listen to concerns on the ground, whether it's about stagnating wages, retirement adequacy or jobs lost through disruption, she said.

But while doing so, it must also balance being pro-worker and pro-business, she stressed. "We must therefore be responsive while maintaining a careful balance," she said.

"It would be a mistake to not keep Singapore open to specialist skills and talents from around the world. At the same time, it would be a bigger mistake to not strengthen support for Singaporeans."

The work group on older workers aside, other new MOM initiatives include working with NTUC to enhance the Inclusive Growth Programme, which offers perks to businesses to share their productivity gains with lower-wage workers, she said.

It will also look into other possibilities to ensure that low-wage workers are better supported.

MOM, together with Workforce Singapore, will also roll out the SkillsFuture for Enterprises initiative, which will help companies set up better training and human resource systems, structures and processes. It will help them diagnose their current HR capabilities and then to develop and implement a plan to close any gaps.

A one-year pilot programme of this new initiative aims to engage 1,000 companies across various sectors; a full roll-out will be expanded to include 10,000 companies over five years.

There is an "almost-new" team at MOM now, noted Mrs Teo.

In the Cabinet reshuffle last month, she was made Minister.

Zaqy Mohamad, previously a backbencher, was promoted to Minister of State for Manpower and Low Yen Ling was named Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower.

Mr Zaqy will focus on workplace safety and health, as well as progressive workplace practices including those for persons with disabilities, said Mrs Teo.

Ms Low will champion women's inclusion in the workforce, and help young graduates best develop their careers and fulfil their potential.

"We are as excited as we are committed," Mrs Teo said.