There is an “extraordinary degree of ageism” in the workplace here in Singapore, said Mr Victor Mills, the chief executive officer of the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce.
In an interview with the Straits Times, Mr Mills was asked “how big of a problem” was ageism in Singapore, an issue which Mr Mills has campaigned against.
“Many talented people above 40, especially PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) who lose their jobs due to economic restructuring, cannot find jobs due to an extraordinary degree of ageism here,” he said.
“HR managers would look at their CVs and think they are too senior and probably stuck in their ways. But age is not the issue here. Rather, it is their skills, experience, capabilities and, above all, their potential.
“Admittedly among this group are people who do not want to take a pay cut because they think they are going to lose face. Or they do not believe in continual learning because they think that’s for young folk. That is wrong. Those attitudes must change too.”
Mr Mills, who was born in Northern Ireland and is now a Singapore citizen, first came to Singapore 30 years ago.
“What also struck me, which we have since lost, is that Singapore was much more egalitarian and relaxed back then,” he said.
Now, he said, “a lot of values seem to have been lost” in the country’s “headlong rush for more money”.
“The level of materialism – what you wear, where you live, what you drive, what you wear on your wrist – has become a key determinant of the value of human life,” he said. “This is absolute nonsense.”
Mr Mills said that “[there] are lots and lots of people – more than before – who feel that life, their employer and the Government owe them a living.”
“This has manifest itself in an overfussiness or a sense of entitlement which businesses, whether large or small, foreign or local, have been telling me about,” he explained.
But, he said, there are “hundreds of thousands of my fellow citizens who do a fabulous job, day in and day out.”
The issue of age discrimination in Singapore has been previously raised, both in the media and by Members of Parliament – and from Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam as well.
“For our older PMEs, (those who are) middle-aged especially, once they lose their jobs, some of them find it tough to get back in,” Mr Tharman said in 2013.
“And I believe there’s an element of age discrimination that we have to tackle,” he added.
In 2014, it was the Speaker of Parliament, Halimah Yaacob, who raised the matter.
“We are still very much an ageist society,” she told the Straits Times in an interview. “Sometimes people may not even know that they are being ageist.”
“I receive a lot of feedback from elderly job applicants and they say it is very difficult for them to get a job because sometimes when they call up an employer, when the employer asks for their age, and then when they inform the employer what their age is, the employer immediately says, okay, the vacancy has been filled.”
In 2013, Workers’ Party MP for Aljunied GRC, Chen Show Mao, raised the issue in Parliament and asked the Manpower Minister, Tan Chuan-jin, what the Government would do “in order to determine and quantify the nature of the problem.”
Mr Tan replied that the Government works through the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices or TAFEP and took a “moral suasion approach to encourage fair employment practices.”
He said that in the preceding three years, TAFEP received 151 age-related discrimination complaints.
“Thus far, employers approached by TAFEP have heeded TAFEP’s advice and made adjustments to their employment practices, for example by removing age criteria from job advertisements,” Mr Tan said.
“Addressing age discrimination is more of an ongoing journey than a destination, and requires the concerted efforts of all members of Singapore society,” he added.