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Perception of elderly people in Singapore

Singapore is rapidly facing ageing population where the proportion of residents aged 65 and above increased from 14% of the resident population in 1998 and this is set to rise to 27% in 2015. An increase in life expectancy has led to the increase in proportion of elderly people. Other reasons were due to the ageing of the baby boomers, decrease in infant and early childhood mortality rate and low birth rates.

In today’s society, our perception of elderly people is often that of dependency, slow and disregarded. Misconceptions arise about ageing, leading to stereotyping and social discrimination. A common stereotype states that most elderly people are either unhealthy or ill. When elderly people are unsure of themselves, they are considered to be senile. They are also accused of being old when they forgot a sentence.

It was the older generation who worked hard and they deserve to be respected by society. With more and more people becoming old, it is important to pay attention to the legal issues surrounding elders. We need to confront such concerns now so that people are able to look forward to enjoying their old age in peace in the future. Addressing the problem of discrimination in Singapore is therefore a key step in further developing and building up our nation. Through undertaking these suggestions, we can hope towards a better future for Singapore, one free from discrimination and abuse of human rights. Therefore, it is vital that companies and individuals change their mindset and be more supportive towards older generation.

Hence, this report will highlight the issue on discrimination against elderly people especially in the workplace. Measures taken at the company and national level to combat this social discrimination against the elderly people are also discussed.

Many people discriminate elderly people and this is prevalent in the workplace. Age discrimination occurs when older worker is discriminated against by an employer because of their age. A recent survey by Kelly Services discovered that majority of the 1,500 respondents polled in Singapore, experienced some type of prejudice when applying for a job in the last five years and the main reason for discrimination, which contributed to 29 percent, was age.

Majority of the older workers did not complete their secondary education due to limited educational opportunities. Hence, they have a lower skilled job. As firms seek higher productivity, current jobs are being automated and improvised, resulting in multiple and higher skills requirements. This eventually leads to older workers, with low education and holding unskilled jobs, being retrenched.

Even if low skilled jobs are available, older workers still face competition from younger and cheaper foreign workers. Many companies are biased against older workers and still prefer to hire younger employees. Such discrimination fails to tap fully the older workers’ contributions.

In addition, due to the high cost of hiring older workers and perception among employers that they are less productive and open to new ideas, many firms are less likely to hire them. As such, employers may encourage early retirement or layoff disproportionately older workers. This is usually seen in computer and entertainment industries. As a result, we often see older workers picking up empty cans or selling tissue papers. Other stereotypical old-age occupations that come into mind will be cleaners and servers at fast food restaurants.

Age discrimination has a negative effect on the economy and society. Discriminating age is harmful to a company because older people are full of experiences. By not hiring them, it deprived them of securing a job. The effect on the economy is evident in older workers depleting life savings which were meant for retirement. Borrowing money from financial institutions and maxing out credit cards may be the only solutions for some unemployed people to survive.

Medical needs either go unmet or the unemployed person must seek help via subsidies to pay for medication. Depression also rises when people become discouraged from the loss of a job, a home and a livelihood.

However, we have Central Provision Fund (CPF) and Medisave which our Singapore government have implemented to provide Singaporeans with a retirement income to meet their basic needs in old age.

Another example of discrimination against the elderly people was due to their “deteriorating intelligence”, they are incapable of making independent decisions such as owning financial property, or living independently. People see this as a negative attitude which is often translated into their ageist actions.

There seems to be a trend for the elderly to live on their own, away from their children. It is because some people feel that elderly people is a burden as they are often sick and dependant. Therefore, they will put them in the care of caregivers in the elderly homes, thinking that they have provided them the best in terms of basic needs. However, they are wrong as they have unnoticeably discriminated against them by having a perception that they are a burden, slow, and dependent.

United Kingdom (UK) also faces discrimination against the elderly in the workplace. However, older people want to work beyond state pension age and employers are positive about retaining them. Various surveys show that there is a keen attitude amongst older employees for flexible working and flexible pensions. The government encourages older workers to continue working and employers recognize them as a valuable resource.

Instead, we should appreciate old age and understand that there is nothing wrong about growing old. We should not identify old age with imagery of despondency. There is a need to rethink on how we can care for the elderly and combat this social discrimination.

Under Singapore’s laws (with some exceptions), the government cannot fine or take any legal action against employers who choose to discriminate. Individuals also cannot sue employers.

Recognising the need for older workers to remain employed, the government has come up with various measures which include the extension of the retirement age to 62, reduction in the costs of employing older workers, Back-to-Work programs to encourage the economically inactive to enter the labour force and re-training and skills upgrading of older workers.

To reduce the cost of employing older workers, the employer’s CPF contribution rate for older workers aged 55 and above has decreased and employers can cut wages of workers aged above 60 by up to 10%.

Employers have moved away from the seniority wage system and turned to a performance-based wage system. An SHRI (2007) survey revealed that only 14% of Singapore employers use a seniority wage system, while 61% are offering a performance-based wage system. Thus, this enables older workers to be hired because the wages increase with age using a seniority wage system.

In the workplace, employers are encouraged to employ older workers and to job redesign. An example will be NTUC FairPrice where they hired older workers and assisted them in job upgrading and career transitions. Older workers can also enrol themselves in training programs to upgrade their skills and this ensures their employability.

This is especially so in an increasingly knowledge based Economy. For older workers, learning should not only be seen as an advantage for employment but also for self enrichment and fulfilment. The raising of the retirement age to 62 also enables older workers to secure jobs.

Employers have to rethink their attitudes towards employing older workers and make the necessary adjustments e.g. modification of work processes to accommodate older workers. For example, in McDonalds, icons of hamburgers and fries are printed on the cash registers to help older workers key in the right orders. However, their success still depends heavily on employers because it is important that they change their attitudes so that they do not employ employees on the grounds on age.

Recently, a “tripartite” committee (consisting of Singapore National Employers’ Federation, National Trades Union Congress and the Ministry of Manpower) was set up. They have come up with a set of guidelines on Non- Discriminatory Job Advertisements to discourage employers from adopting discriminatory criteria (such as race, religion, or age) in their recruitment practices. They should avoid stipulating age as a requirement for employment. Public and private sector employers also have to pledge to comply with the non-discriminatory practices. The implementation of the guidelines was successful as there was a significant drop in the percentage of newspaper advertisements stipulating discriminatory criteria from 30% in February to less than 1% in April this year.

In Singapore the approach used is more promotional and educational than through legislation as it would be too rigid. This is in contrast with countries such as United Kingdom (UK).

UK employment equality law combats prejudice in the workplace as it prohibits discrimination against people based on gender, race, religion, sexuality, disability and age. In UK, It will be unlawful to discriminate against an employee under the age of 65 based on age. Employers are unable to specify that a new recruit should be above or below a particular age. In addition, employers who sack workers or deny them the same training opportunities as their colleagues on age grounds will break the law.

The governments also promotes the employment of older workers through re-training programmes, job referrals, career advice, promotion of community service employment and subsidies to employers.

Australia: The Aussies have very strong anti-discriminatory hiring practices. When a jobseeker sends in his resume, he can choose not to provide details like address, race, gender, age, religion and photograph. The employers will only decide to interview the candidate based on his working experience and qualifications.

In fact, older workers are valuable. Some have argued that they are slow in acquiring new skills. However, older workers perform well in a learning environment involving more hands-on practices, usually those which require customer-sales relationships. The growing importance of services industry in Singapore will expand its employment of older workers as the nature of work will be more dependent on soft skills e.g. in service delivery.

In conclusion, government policies can have an impact on the hiring of older workers. Most importantly, it is still the older persons themselves who want to work and employers who provide them with opportunities. As quoted by Ralph B. Perry,

‘Age should not have its face lifted, but it should rather teach the world to admire

wrinkles as the etchings of experience and the firm line of character.’

Why affects society and important?

How it creates inequality?

Source Citation

“Elderly Rights.” Global Issues in Context Online Collection. Detroit: Gale, 2010. Global Issues In Context. Web. 26 Apr. 2010.

Palmore, E.B. (1999). Ageism: Negative and Positive. Published by Springer Publishing Company, USA.,M1

Effects of Discrimination in the Workplace

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