The law prevents dismissals on grounds of age any employee who is below 62.
However, I get that the sense that many Singaporeans find that piece of law irrelevant to them. If they are in a job, they can be dismissed on a very broad range of issues. If they are not in a job, there would be great difficulty in getting one.
“My clients specifically tells me not to consider anyone above the age of 50”, says a recruiter, who does not wished to be named.
“People at that age ought to command a higher salary. And if they accept a lower package, there is either something wrong, or they will leave the moment a better offer comes along. Neither of which is what our clients want”.
There are also a range of issues affecting their employability: their willingness to adapt, energy, enthusiasm, social connection with younger colleagues (and sometimes bosses). The perception is in the negative and this phenomenon is commonplace.
I spoke with a gentleman, let’s call him Mr. Tan, told me about his experience in looking for a job.
“I can do anything, drive, look after stores, cashier, administration. One famous shoe company asked me if I could climb ladders and take out shoes, of course I could. However they turned me down and the next time I was there, a younger chap had the role instead.”
This gentleman eventually landed a job at a fast-food outlet.
With every person I speak with, there is a sense that a person’s true corporate expiry date is age 50. But that is not to say that the retirement (and Re-employment) act is useless.
“If you’re in your late 40s, you better not resign”, said Mr. Tan.
“Why”? I asked.
“Because then the law cannot protect you. Although, yes, you may say that the company can retrench you for non-performance and all, but at least that threat is there. At least you have some form of bargaining power”.
The law does not stop at protecting you against premature retirement, it also encourages continued employment. Re-employment means that an employer shall offer to re-employ when a worker turns 62 years of age until 67.
With the Act, you can retire any age you want, but companies cannot retire you earlier. Without the Act, employers will decide retirement age. To the employers, it is just a change of policy, no protection for workers.
If your employer is unable to re-employ you, your employer can transfer re-employment obligations to another employer.
These pieces of legislation form small, but important first steps towards career security. They will not in itself offer complete protection; because anyone can easily workaround the statutory limitations.
It is only when business people understand the important role that mature workers play, when the stereotype and imaginary weaknesses are rejected, then only can the retirement age make sense to the ordinary worker.
It is not just the government’s role. The media is greatly at fault for stereotypes of mature workers. An elderly person is always cast as a jester, a funny person whom gets laughed at for being clumsy, useless and irrelevant.
We, in our family roles, also have a part to play. Oftentimes we ask our parents to work less, don’t do more, to rest… when in fact what they desire is quite the opposite.
“I can work, why should I rest? The more I rest, the higher risk I am of dementia!” said Mdm. Wong, a canteen helper in her 60s. I shared with Mdm. Wong the mechanics of the Retirement and Re-Employment Act and her response was of clear support.
Some experts have asked for the Act to be removed, but without an Equality Act (laws that protect against discrimination), people are then left with zero protection from age discrimination.
Some have asked for the age to be raised, which is generally a good thing…but until society understands the reason and importance of the Act, it won’t solve the fundamental issues discussed above.
And as long as comments such as “Wah, gahmen raise retirement age, want me to work forever ah!” exists, then we as a people have not grasped the true issues and pitfalls behind retirement yet.