Singapore seniors solving labor crisis
WATARU YOSHIDA, Nikkei staff writer
SINGAPORE -- As the country's population ages, Singapore's senior citizens are becoming an increasingly important part of the workforce.
Raymond Ong, with his slicked-back hair and immaculate white shirt, arrives perfectly turned out for a shift as a busser at Lawry's The Prime Rib Singapore, where he has worked for the past several months.
Ong, who now lives alone in a suburban housing complex, looked surprised when asked why he keeps working. "I want to continue working so far as health permits."
The proportion of workers aged over 60 in Singapore is 12%, more than double the figure a decade ago. At Lawry's, six out of 55 staff are 60 or over.
Lawry's had few older workers until three years ago. Director Kevin Koh said older members of staff were brought in to solve a labor shortage.
The company introduced flexible working hours to accommodate older staff, whose hard work and diligence have become a great asset. Koh said he wants to hire more elderly staff.
In 2012, the Singaporean government called on companies to rehire employees who had reached the retirement age of 62 until they turned 65. In July 2017, the age will be lifted to 67.
The employment rate of 65- to 69-year-olds is 42%, up from 25% in 2006. In early July, Vice Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said the country would have no retirement age in the future.
As of 2014, Singapore's total fertility rate was 1.25, one of the lowest in the world. With the country expected to face a more serious labor shortage, the government decided that utilizing elderly workers would be a good way to keep the economy moving. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said senior citizens can contribute to the country's economic development, but there are two issues to contend with.
The first is a growing backlash against foreign workers. Singapore has a population of 5.53 million, of which expats and overseas laborers make up just under 40%. Foreign laborers have been the driving force behind the city-state's growth, but a fear of losing jobs to foreigners has been on the rise.
Singapore is practically at "full employment" with an unemployment rate of around 2%, in contrast to the European Union, which is coping with its own immigration issues. Singapore, a country made up of Chinese, Malay and Indian immigrants, is becoming less tolerant of foreign workers. In fear of losing out at the polls, the ruling People's Action Party began closing the door to foreign workers at the beginning of the decade.
The other miscalculation is in regard the changing attitudes of young people in the city-state. An information technology company executive said he is struggling to recruit youngsters as many applicants are only interested in managerial positions.
It was the hard work of the current elderly generation that made Singapore one of the world's wealthiest countries. As the country became richer than any imagined in their youth, however, young Singaporeans began to shun physical labor. Furthermore, with the growing tendency to put off marriage as education levels rise, there is a shortage of young workers due to falling birthrates.
The backlash against foreigners and declining birth rate are issues common to several developed countries. Diligent elderly workers are helping solve Singapore's labor shortage, but it is not a mechanism that can last forever. This offers a valuable lesson to other countries facing the same problem.