Age discrimination in Hong Kong employment

Prof Chan at the Engage symposium.

“If we don’t engage older people to work and be in the community, we don’t have enough labour to sustain the economy,” shared Prof Alfred Chan of the Equal Opportunities Commission in Hong Kong, in his recent keynote address at EngAGE symposium at Temasek Polytechnic. He added that if people retire at age 60 or later at 65, which are the retirement ages in a number of developed countries, there would be less people engaged in the workforce. And to make matters worse, in 50 years’ time, there will be one person supporting a family of six rather than the current one supporting two in a family.

He added that there are many ways countries are dealing with an ageing population including increasing pension amounts but that have not been altogether smooth, particularly in the European Union where there was unrest. Governments have also looked at promoting increased fertility. “It is not for the Government to say … and for women, would you want three children as this is what it takes to replace the population?” Other options that are on the table include opening up immigration. “However in 50 years’ time, people don’t want their people to leave their countries as they will be much needed.”

Prof Chan said that there are other options to maintain the labour force such as opening up more part-time opportunities for seniors and raising the retirement age which is the most practical way. However, he said what age should we then retire? “Would you hire at 100, probably not.” He said that Governments would not stipulate the age that one should retire but leave it to companies to decide. “If the company is willing to hire and you are willing to work, the Government will support this.” He though stopped short of the idea of having no retirement age, saying: “For the employees, some may still want a definite time allowing them (lawfully) to retire, and for policy-making, employers or the Government need a ‘marker’ for their plans such as staffing, recruitment and training policies.”

Prof Chan said that we are moving towards a knowledge-based economy instead of using muscle to work, and hence, we will need to depend on knowledge and brain power, which is where someone older with experience can contribute. “Young people should understand the seniors have wisdom and knowledge, and older people need to keep learning and using technology.”

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Play together!

Last year, the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) and the Singapore Disability Sports Council (SDSC) introduced a fun guide to conduct inclusive games for all called ‘Let’s Play Together!’. In the guide, there are practical ideas and tips for caregivers, educators and practitioners to modify games like volleyball, basketball and bowling, so everyone can enjoy them including those with disabilities.

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A more inclusive society for those with disabilities

Srin Madipalli at an AbleThrive talk.

With a lot of recent talks about disabilities including the one held by AbleThrive (a platform for those with disabilities), Ageless Voice reached out to a former London lawyer Srin Madipalli, who launched an accessible travel website called Accomable, to find out about having a more inclusive society. Srin, 29, has spinal muscular atrophy which is a genetic disorder that affects the control of muscle movement and has confined him in a wheelchair for his whole life.

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A community centre within a community

The front of the community centre.

Late last year, when I went to Guangzhou, China, to speak at an ageing forum there, I visited Poly Garden’s community centre for seniors, which was launched in July 2015. It is membership-based and available for women from 55 and over, and men 60 and over.

The sign at the front of the centre.

It is open to the public as well as residents in the Poly Garden residential community, where the centre is located. According to officials, there are 5,000 families in the residential community, which was built over 10 years ago, and they are in an area where families are viewed as important.

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When age matters

Ageism in the workforce continues to be a major obstacle for many Singaporeans. Older workers are typically perceived to be slower, less productive and more resistant to change than their younger counterparts.

In an effort to reduce discrimination in the workplace, government leaders have recently promoted the idea of an “ageless” or “age-blind” Singapore, where employers will hire based on an applicant’s skills and experience rather than his or her age.

This is an appropriate response to the problem of workplace ageism. It is expected that by 2030, almost one in four residents in Singapore could be aged 65 or older. This trend is already underway in other industrialised nations such as Japan and Germany.

We will have to make the most of our labour capacity in order to continue thriving economically. The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) has been calling on employers to see the value in mature workers, in preparation for an older workforce.

In our efforts to prevent discrimination, however, we must be careful not to completely disregard age. Doing so has its risks.

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