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Law against sacking workers due to old age could backfire, says MP urging better support for multi-generational workforce

SINGAPORE — A law that was meant to protect older workers from being dismissed due to their age could end up being a disadvantage for them, Member of Parliament (MP) Jessica Tan said, adding that employers should do more to manage a multi-generational workforce.

Law against sacking workers due to old age could backfire, says MP urging better support for multi-generational workforce
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  • A law to protect older workers from being dismissed due to their age has led to an "unconscious bias" against selecting seniors for job roles, MP Jessica Tan said
  • The law requires employers to rehire an eligible employee who reaches the retirement age of 63
  • Companies could find it risky to hire seniors, thinking that he may not be a good fit for the role and has to be re-employed at a later stage
  • Ms Tan was sharing the findings in Parliament, from a survey and focus-group chats done by the People’s Action Party Seniors Group
  • She said the results showed the difficulties of working in a multi-generational workforce and suggested ways to address these

SINGAPORE — A law that was meant to protect older workers from being dismissed due to their age could end up being a disadvantage for them, Member of Parliament (MP) Jessica Tan said, adding that employers should do more to manage a multi-generational workforce.

This may include getting all workers regardless of age to spend time learning work-related skills every few years.

Ms Tan, MP for East Coast Group Representation Constituency, was talking about the Retirement and Re-employment Act, which requires employers to rehire an eligible employee who has reached the retirement age of 63, up to the re-employment age of 68.

She told Parliament on Wednesday (Oct 5) that focus group discussions with human resource professionals had found that the law is “a double-edged sword” when it comes to recruiting older workers.

It has resulted in employers having an “unconscious bias” when hiring seniors for job roles.

“As a company considers hiring someone who is senior and has little runway to retirement, (the employer) may see it as a risk to hire a person if he or she turns out not to be a good fit for the role, because the company will then be required to offer re-employment for the person when he or she reaches retirement age,” Ms Tan said. 

She was sharing the findings of a survey and focus group discussions conducted by the People’s Action Party Seniors Group during an adjournment motion in Parliament.

The group by the ruling party champions causes for elders and Ms Tan is its South East district adviser.

The online survey done last October involved more than 900 people aged 50 and above. The group also held focus group discussions with 200 seniors and did separate surveys and discussions with employers, younger workers and human resource professionals.

The survey with younger workers, though, showed “a paradox”, Ms Tan noted.

A high proportion of these respondents (94 per cent) acknowledged the advantages of working with older colleagues, but a relatively high number of respondents (78 per cent) also faced challenges while working with seniors.

Ms Tan said that the survey results showed the difficulties of working in a multi-generational workforce, such as the differences between people’s mindsets, values and working styles.

In her speech, Ms Tan offered several recommendations in two broad areas to address the problems vexing older workers.

The first area involves structural change, in how workers may learn and organise work.

The second area delves into how to better support a multi-generational workforce.

One suggestion was to allow all workers, including the older set, to spend a few months learning work-related skills every few years. This would help to make learning systemic for all workers, Ms Tan said.

Senior workers who are changing careers may face structural, emotional and physical challenges when learning new skills, so support for them should address these potential issues and let them have a positive learning experience, she added.

Responding to Ms Tan’s concerns on the Retirement and Re-employment Act, Ms Gan Siow Huang, Minister of State for Manpower, said that there is some flexibility to adjust the re-employment terms so that businesses can provide job opportunities for senior workers while remaining competitive.

For example, if an employer is unable to identify a suitable position where a senior worker may be re-employed, as a last resort, the worker may be given an Employment Assistance Payment, which is a one-off payment equivalent to three-and-a-half months’ salary, in lieu of re-employment.

“This is to help the worker tide over while he or she seeks alternative employment,” Ms Gan added.  

On the matter of creating a multi-generational workplace, Ms Gan said that seniors should be open to job-role changes and picking up new skills to keep up with technological advances and new ways of working.

At the same time, employers should design jobs to make tasks and workplace environments friendlier for older workers. For example, the company may provide flexible work arrangements and practise fair employment. 

Ms Gan encouraged employers to approach the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Practices (Tafep) to find out more about how to build age-friendly workplaces. She highlighted that there are free workshops by Tafep to guide employers on putting fair employment practices into place.

Society must see ageing “as a boon, not a bane”, she added.

The Government will provide support to help workers have longer careers, but it cannot do so alone, she stressed.

“We need a strong ecosystem of employers, unions, training institutions and, most of all, employees young and old, to play a part to enable Singaporeans to harness the benefits of (career) longevity.”

Related topics

discrimination seniors older workers Jobs employer employee retirement re-employment

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