Heng Chee How reiterates calls for fair treatment and opportunities for older workers

The word “Disruption” has been dominating the headlines recently – not just in Singapore, but globally because it is a worldwide phenomenon. It is not something that is going to happen. It is already happening, and the pace of change will be accelerating.

And if we ourselves are already finding it difficult to accept and adapt to such disruptive changes, how would the older workers keep pace and have the confidence to move along with the rapid change?

Did you know that older workers now make up one-third of Singapore workforce?

With the extension of Retirement Age and the upward adjustment of the Re-employment Age ceiling, the employment rate for older workers has increased over the years to enable them to prolong their working years and continue earning incomes – if they’re able to and choose to do so.

Labour MP Heng Chee How, who has been advocating for the mature workers, rose to speak in Parliament last week to champion for more attention for the growing population of the elderly to strengthen their employability so that they can age with dignity and purpose – especially during the times of rapid disruption. If anyone wishes to work, we should help them secure the opportunity and also help equip themselves with skills that are relevant with the times.

Mr Heng pointed out in his speech that the proportion of workers aged 50 and above in the resident workforce had increased from 25.7% in 2007 to 34.3% in 2017. And currently, there are around 750,000 workers at or above the age of 50, meaning that the older workers make up one in three in the resident workforce.

Older workers were mainly employed as cleaners, labourers and related workers (120,000 workers), service and sales workers (110,000 workers) and plan and machine operators and assemblers (99,000 workers).

This would mean that half of older workers in our workforce are currently in these occupation – That’s quite a lot, isn’t it?

Preparing mature workers for era of disruption

If you recall, PM Lee highlighted three industries which have been disrupted during his May Day Rally speech earlier and in Mr Heng’s speech, he also brought up the advent of autonomous vehicles, e-retailing, manufacturing 4.0.

What does this mean for the older workers? And these older workers could be the kind security guard uncle at your condo who greets you every morning, or the cleaning aunty at your workplace, or hey, even your own parents who are still in the workforce.

With one-third of older workers in our workforce, it means that a huge group of them are likely to be impacted by the disruptions, if they’re not already experiencing disruption. And therefore, the need to plan ahead is even more critical.

In his speech, he further advocated to initiate action to plan for the older workers, to minimise the number of older workers who will be displaced due to disruption or skills becoming obsolete.

Companies will be able to benefit from be able to employ workers with relevant skills for tomorrow’s job, the older workers can also enhance their relevance and value and strengthen their working terms and prospects.

To achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation

To ensure that these mature workers can ride through the wave of transition smoothly, Mr Heng urges for early intervention.

“By tackling the challenge as early as possible, we minimise the number of older workers who will be displaced through irreverence. In this way, we enable older workers to continue earning incomes. This will not only help them meet ongoing living expenses, but also strengthen their retirement adequacy. As we like to say in the Labour Movement, A job is the best welfare.'”

Mr Heng has outlined three areas where action can be initiated:

But having said that, at the end of the day, “It is in the prompt doing of the necessary that survival and success is found”, said Mr Heng.

It still boils down to whether the employers is willing to do away with the ageist behaviour and is receptive and accepting of older workers. At the same time, it also depends on the older workers, if they are willing to play their part to continually upskill, reskill and deep-skill to enhance their employability.

It takes two hands to clap – and we all grow old, you know?

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