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Heng Chee How: Keeping Older Workers Employable is the Best Form of Retirement Protection

The NTUC Deputy Secretary-General speaks on measures to further strengthen the retirement adequacy of present and future generations of older workers.
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By Ian Tan Hanhonn 01 Mar 2022
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NTUC Deputy Secretary-General Heng Chee How has called for the Government to pay special attention to older workers who will be significantly impacted by rapid changes in technology, especially those in sectors that are switching to low-carbon technology.

“The vulnerability of older workers in such settings is self-evident. If displaced, their risk of structural unemployment will be higher than the rest. Even if they are rehired, their earnings will likely be lower, negatively impacting retirement adequacy,” he said in his Budget Debate speech on 1 March 2022.

To prevent displacement of these older workers, Mr Heng called for tripartite partners to identify such priority sectors and occupations for re-skilling so that older workers in the current jobs will be part of the companies’ transformation journey.

He added that the companies can also tap on NTUC’s growing network of Company Training Committees to train these older workers systematically.

Mr Heng believes that keeping workers employed and employable is the best retirement protection that tripartite partners can afford to any worker.

He said: “Each year of additional work would mean that an older worker earns at least another 12 months’ pay, excluding bonuses. Clearly, this would greatly help with an older worker’s financial position and retirement savings more than by any other measure.”

Strengthening Retirement Adequacy - CPF

While Mr Heng thanked the Government for improving the CPF contribution rates of older workers aged 55 to 70 in January 2022, he said that on its own is insufficient for most to achieve retirement adequacy.

“For workers to be able to maximise their CPF retirement savings gained from work, they need to be in work for as many years as they are willing and able to, and for them to be able to qualify for both employer and employee CPF contributions as pay levels change with time,” he shared.

He therefore hopes that the Government will take periodic reviews of the qualifying criteria for employer CPF contributions, taking into consideration economic conditions.

Enable Middle-Aged Caregivers to Return to Work

Mr Heng also pointed to the trend of middle-aged female workers leaving the workforce.

He said that family responsibilities were the likely cause for women to choose to leave work.

Beyond measures such as flexible work arrangements to help retain more middle-aged workers with elder care responsibilities, he hopes that the Government will carry out more studies on implementing sustainable and affordable senior day care services.

He said: “We must study this expansion of affordable, accessible senior day care services in earnest and through policy direction implement a scaling up of such affordable and accessible services with appropriate conditions so that we can forestall a surge in local workforce departures in the medium term, or a huge further increase in demand for foreign domestic help that comes with its own complexities.

“This will also allow us to create viable jobs in this sector, turning the unavoidable population aging into an opportunity.”