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Troubling questions about the pay cut for re-employed retired teachers

by: Lisa Li/

From January 2012 onwards, based on the Tripartite Guidelines on Re-employment of Older Employees issued in March 2010, all teachers retiring at age 62 will be offered employment up to age 65 - but with a pay cut of up to 30% of their last drawn salaries.

According to the Ministry of Education (MOE), this is a good thing. "More than 250 retiring teachers in the next two years are expected to benefit from the re-employment framework," said Mr Lu Cheng Yang, Director of Personnel, MOE. The only way I can make sense of Mr Lu's statement would be to assume that the "more than 250 retiring teachers" would not have been offered re-employment at all, or would have suffered a bigger pay cut, if not for this new re-employment framework.

Still, even without these re-employment guidelines, there are already "more than 600 retired teachers serving as contract adjunct teachers today". Furthermore, in MOE's re-employment pilot programme since August 2008, "education officers were all re-employed based on their last drawn salary". Little wonder then, that "the pain of the salary cut felt by the re-employed teachers is especially acute for those who were part of the successful pilot." (Read 'Union says: Change is regressive, viewed as unfair', Straits Times, 4 Aug 2011)

No direct link between pay cut and workload for re-employed retired teachers?

According to MOE, "as a norm, retiring teachers are offered re-employment on the contract adjunct teaching scheme" on "full, 3/4, 2/3, or 1/2 workload"; their exact duties "are to be arranged between school and applicant" and "can be changed on a per-semester basis". (See 'Details of the Contract Adjunct Teachers Programme', MOE)

The blanket clause in the new re-employment scheme that allows a pay cut of up to 30% for re-employed retired teachers is not clearly linked to the different workload schemes, and is a loophole for potential exploitation - or over-protection - of the retired teachers' salaries. Why should a full-load or 3/4-load contract adjunct teacher be legally vulnerable to this clause that allows a pay cut of up to 30%? And shouldn't a 1/2 workload teacher receive just half his or her last drawn salary?

As re-employed Chinese language teacher Chua Meng Yuen told the Straits Times: "This move does not come as an encouragement to older teachers. Across-the-board pay cuts should be accompanied by across-the-board cuts in workload." Clearly, it would be beneficial to both teachers and MOE if the different salary levels were directly linked to the different workload schemes.

Re-employing retirees or extending the retirement age?

In October 2010, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Lim Boon Heng told the press that "we are raising the retirement age, through the process of re-employment from the current 62 to 65 in January 2012" and suggested that Singapore's retirement age may even be extended to 68 years in future. So is MOE re-employing retired teachers or raising the retirement age? There is a subtle but crucial difference between these two ways of framing the issue.

Because the new scheme is described as one that offers re-employment to retired teachers, it is depicted as a privilege - our retired teachers should thank their lucky stars and not complain about the pay cut.

But if Singapore actually means to raise the retirement age, the onus is then on the employer (in the case of teachers, it would be the government) to maintain salaries at a reasonable level. The Ministry of Manpower's Retirement Age Act protects employees above the age of 60, by stipulating that employers can cut their wages by up to 10% only. Furthermore, "the wage reduction must be based on reasonable factors other than age, such as changes in an employee's productivity, performance, duties and responsibilities."

In other words, if MOE raised the official retirement age to 65 years, these teachers between 62 and 65 years would still be protected under MOM's Retirement Age Act, and their maximum pay cut would be 10%, not 30%. But because the government is keeping the official retirement age at 62 years, the re-employed teachers "above age 62 are not covered by the RA Act, regardless of whether they are employed on a contract or tenure basis" and therefore they have no legal recourse when their pay is cut by 30% purely due to age.

It is highly troubling that our government, as Singapore's biggest employer, is exploiting a loophole in its own Retirement Age Act by classifying its employees as "re-employed retirees" who cannot be protected by the RA Act, rather than admitting to the raise in retirement age.

Equal pay for equal work, ex-teachers and ex-Principals alike?

Finally, many feel that these full-load retiree teachers should not receive a pay cut at all, because of their expertise and wealth of experience. In general, I agree with former teacher Mr Sunny Chong who wrote that retired teachers are often "great mentors who provide rich pedagogical advice to their younger colleagues." The Singapore Teachers' Union and Singapore People's Party also separately issued statements criticizing the pay cut in this re-employment scheme.

However, in my opinion, neither a percentage cut or zero pay cut based on last drawn salary would be ideal, because such a clause would allow those who retire as Vice Principals or Principals, who are then rehired as contract adjunct teachers, to receive a much higher pay for a regular teacher's job.

I was told by a secondary school teacher who is due to retire in a few years, that the average teacher who retires at 62 has a monthly salary of between $5,000 to $8,000, depending on whether he or she is a regular teacher, senior teacher or head of department. However, according to a 28 Dec 2007 MOE press release, an experienced Principal on the Senior Education Officer (SEO) Superscale ‘H’ receives an annual pay package of $193,000 - which works out to be approximately $16,000 per month.

As such, whether there is no pay cut or a standard percentage pay cut for re-employed retired education officers, it seems unfair that an ex-Principal should receive significantly higher pay compared to a fellow "re-employed retired" teacher for doing the same job of teaching. Wouldn't it be more equitable if MOE were to pay the full last-drawn salary to full-load retired teachers, with a salary cap on par with an experienced senior teacher's pay - even for ex-Principals? Shouldn't there be equal pay for equal work?