Re-employment age will be raised eventually: PM

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File photo of the Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivering the National Day Rally Speech at the University Cultural Centre, National University of Singapore

Older workers who want to work beyond the age of 65 will eventually be able to do so under the law.

The Government's "ultimate objective is to amend the Retirement and Re-employment Act... but this takes time", said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

It was the clearest indication yet by the Government of an extension of the re-employment age.

The move is being negotiated by the unions, employers and the Government, and PM Lee said the authorities are "fully supporting" the discussions.

"We will get there," he said at the May Day Rally yesterday.

The official retirement age in Singapore is 62, although bosses must offer healthy workers who have performed satisfactorily re-employment from ages 62 to 65, or give them a one-off payment.

Negotiations to further raise the ceiling will take time, added Mr Lee. He urged older workers to be patient and also change their expectations.

"Rather than doing the same job at same pay, please be prepared to do suitable jobs at reasonable pay," said Mr Lee, adding: "At 65, we are not as strong as before."

Even before the law is changed, the civil service is already taking the lead, he pointed out, saying that it re-employs almost 800 workers above 65 years old. There are about 80,000 civil servants.

Mr Ma Wei Cheng, general secretary of the Amalgamated Union of Public Employees, told The Straits Times that the civil service took the lead in re-hiring older workers up to the age of 65 six months before the changes to the law took effect in January 2012.

He hopes that the civil service will again take the lead with the next extension, offering re-employment to those above 65 even before it is mandatory.

The Singapore National Employers Federation said that given the tight labour market, it is "not against" moving the re-employment age to 67.

But it would like employers' concerns about the employability and health of older workers to be addressed in the move, said its president Stephen Lee.

"I don't have a definite timeline to offer," he said.

National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) deputy secretary- general Heng Chee How hopes that "some form of mutual understanding over a road map or timetable" could be reached with employers by the end of this year.

Besides older workers, Mr Lee also turned his attention to a second group of workers whom the Government is concerned about - low-wage workers.

He pointed out that NTUC plays an important role in championing low-wage workers by pushing for its progressive wage model, or wage ladder, to be implemented.

Besides the wage ladder, the Government's Workfare schemes top up the salaries of those earning up to $1,900 per month and their Central Provident Fund and Medisave accounts.

He noted that Workfare has helped almost 500,000 workers, costing $650 million annually.

"I believe these strategies benefit workers more than a minimum wage," he said. He promised low-wage workers: "So long as you work hard, the Government will help to improve your lives."

tohyc@sph.com.sg

This article was published on May 2 in The Straits Times.

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