by Joshua Chiang
” You’ve reached the maximum you can do at your age in that position, you move sideways and you take less pay and you move gradually to less and less pay because you are moving slower and slower, especially if you are doing physical work.” Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, when asked for his comments on how an ageing population might affect the push for higher productivity
When Lau (not his real name) was retrenched from his job of 13 –and-a-half-years, the only reason given was that he was ‘not suitable’.
Lau, 56, worked as a storeman in a warehouse. Starting from an initial $1,200 a month, he saw his salary rise to about $1,600 a month. Things started changing when his employer’s daughter took over the company he was working for. Lau found himself working with a new ‘assistant’ from an Asian country.
“When they started employing foreign workers, I know my day will come,” Lau tells The Online CItizen.
In August this year, Lau was retrenched. His employer told him was ‘not suitable’ for the job, but Lau suspects the real reason was that the assistant was cheaper. The assistant was paid $1050 a month, and his employer didn’t need to contribute to his CPF.
“I left,” Lau says. “What’s the point of arguing?”
“In the cases we have intercepted, employers say this is based on the qualifications of the person and not nationalities.” Mdm Halimah Yacob, co-chairman of the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (Tafep) saying that it’s not true employers favor foreign workers over locals.
“I will call you in two weeks.”
Lau next went to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and was recommended to sign up for courses at E2i, an ‘employabilty institute’ started by NTUC. Lau took up two English enrichment courses and also one on retail, for which he received a certificate.
Lau also went to his district’s CDC (Community Development Council) for help in finding jobs. He could not apply for financial assistance as the combined income of his wife and son, at $2000, exceeded the eligibility criteria. Over the next three months, the CDC sent him to three job fairs.
According to Lau, most of the people at the fairs were around his age, some even older. The few young people who went got jobs almost immediately. But it was much harder for older applicants.
“They (the employers) tell you they will call in two weeks,” he says. “When they tell you that, you know you got no chance.”
Lau applied for a total of 20-over jobs at the fairs. All were unsuccessful.
He also went for a few job interviews which he found out about through the classified ads. At one of the walk-in interviews for a job at a shoe shop, the employer told him bluntly, “You are too old, you cannot work.”
“Employees must not conveniently use the excuse of perceived discriminatory work practices to cover up for their own work inadequacies.” DPM Teo Chee Hian
Cheaper, Better, Faster
Finally, in mid-November, Lau got a break. He was recommended a retail assistant job by E2i.
The new job required him to work 9 hours a day for six days a week for $1100 a month. (Lau worked 8 hours a day, five and a half days a week in his previous job) . He was also expected to stand throughout most of the working hours.
Lau accepted the offer.
“I still have to pay for the loan for my flat, what to do?” he says. His three-month retrenchment compensation was also running out fast. The combined income of his wife and son were only enough to cover the bills and daily expenses.
Lau has been working at his new job for two weeks. He admits that is tough standing for hours at a stretch. Since he started work, Lau has been taking painkillers everyday and has also started wearing elastic bandages around his knees to relieve the pain in his legs.
Nonetheless, Lau considers himself lucky. At least he doesn’t have to worry about losing his flat for now.
“I know a friend who is 62 years old and attends the E2i courses as well,” he says. “Up till now, he still can’t find a job.”
Lau is a actually a classmate of regular TOC contributor Mr Leong Sze Hian. After speaking to Lau, we asked Mr Leong to write a related article. The following is Mr Leong’s contribution.
Job Assistance Scheme a waste of time?
By Leong Sze Hian
In connection with The Online Citizen’s article above, I would like to add the following-
Given the experience of my classmate, I find it rather strange that the latest available labour statistics say that “1,320 or 52.1 per cent of vacancies for Sales Assistant with a median salary of $1,630 were unfilled for at least six months. For Receptionist and Information Clerk with a median salary of $1,871, and Waiter (median salary $1,200), the vacancies were 580 (20.1 per cent) and 1,190 (51.1 per cent), respectively.
Since employers who participate in job assistance schemes may never inform the job assistance agencies that they discriminate against older workers due to their job requirements, job seekers like my classmate may simply be wasting their time, effort and money to travel to such interviews. In this regard, the human resource department may also be wasting their time, as they can’t turn away applicants that they don’t want in the first place.
Also, the median salaries appear to be rather high, as I understand that the market starting salary for Sales Assistant and Receptionist/Information Clerk are only about $1,200.
In the light of my friend’s experience, I looked up the MOM statistics and found that Real Wages declined by about 12 per cent in the second quarter, and the number of unemployed locals increased by about 33 per cent from 63,300 to 84,400 in June.
If jobs are indeed “bursting at the seams“, it would seem strange that it still took my classmate three months to find a job, and one that pays considerable lower than the median salary in the latest statistics.
If you know of anyone who has been unemployed for long despite actively looking for jobs, do write to us at [email protected]