Workers have to stay skilful and healthy as companies raise retirement and re-employment ages, says NTUC Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng

Over 50 companies have raised their retirement and re-employment ages for workers beyond the statutory requirements, says NTUC Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng in an interview with CNA938 on Thursday (15 August).

Mr Ng, who has been urging employers here to go just that, said that this is a “pretty decent” response and added that workers are appreciative of the move.

In July, NTUC announced that around 20 unionised companies including Garden by the Bay, Novotel Clarke Quay Singapore, and ComfortDelGro Group either did not specify a retirement age or had raise it.

Even so, Mr Ng said that there has been some resistance from employers who worry about the cost of raising those ages, from wages to healthcare costs for older workers. These, Mr Ng said, are valid considerations given how businesses are facing external uncertainties on top of domestic pressures.

“I think they are not unfair in stating those concerns,” he added.

“We will have to sit down, put our concerns and challenges on the table, and really think through these issues as tripartite partners.”

In March, Minister of Manpower Josephine Teo said that representatives of the government, unions and employers can agreed on the need to raise the retirement and re-employment ages. Following that, a work group was set up in May to look into the issues, including to evaluate the impact of the Central Provident Fund (CPF) contribution rates for older workers. The group is due to provide an update by September, said Mrs Teo.

When ask about NTUC’s stand on the restoration of CPF contribution rates for older workers, Mr Ng, who is also a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office said that NTUC has been pushing that for quite a while. “We think this is a good re-think of our CPF … on how to plan for adequacy of retirement and so forth, I think it is a necessary thing to do.”

The Institute of Policy Student recently released a report which called for the CPF contribution rates for workers over 55-60 to be restored from 26% to the same levels as younger workers at 37%. The CPF contribution rates for workers aged 60-65 is 16.5% while for those above 65 it’s 12.5%. The report’s suggestion includes increasing those to 37% as well.

On whether those increases would be possible of there was a compromise that could be agreed upon, Mr Ng simply noted that the CPF rates are a subtopic for the tripartite work group and that there would be a formal report “sometime soon”.

When asked about how companies and workers are being helped by the labour movement to cope with technological disruptions, Mr Ng said that NTUS has collaborated with companies to set up training committees the help “institutionalise” the training aspects. The labour chief added that there were still companies that do not know what technology can help with their problems nor how to acquire these technologies or how to use them.

On the side of workers, there is still fear that technology will take over their jobs. On this, Mr Ng said it is important to shift mindsets to start recognising technology as “a friend and enabler”, which is one of the objectives of the training committees.

In April, NTUC announced that they hope to formed 1,000 committees across all six industry transformation map groups in the span of three years which will benefit approximately 330,000 employees.

Mr Ng also noted in the interview that some most of his employers are “fair people” who will pay their employees for the work they do, regardless of age. He stressed that productivity and skills are key for employers.

However, he also asserted that workers will have to play their part in staying up to day with relevant skills and picking up added skills to stay productive. “Age will not really be that much of a factor if you are skilful and you keep healthy,” he stressed.