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.”

 

Age discrimination study

The changing times.

He shared a study that was done in Hong Kong that looked at whether there is a need to extend the retirement age and legislate against age discrimination. It was carried out through a questionnaire survey conducted in November 2014 with 401 people and an in-depth interviews done in February 2015 with 10 employers, three employees from SMEs, and four members from the Legislative Council.

“The findings suggest that there is a reason to believe that age discrimination is occurring in our workplaces. More than one-third (35 percent) of the employed persons in the survey perceived that age discrimination is serious in employment,” said Prof Chan. “We need to bite the bullet and look at this area even though some people don’t believe age discrimination exists.”

He added: “Interviewed employers believed that age discrimination legislation would reduce flexibility in decision-making in the employment cycle. They took the view that under the current social and economic circumstances, employers found great difficulty in recruitment, let alone discriminating against mature people.”

Prof Chan said that with regards to the retirement age and re-employment of mature workers, some employers believe that there should be a recommended retirement age to which employees could make reference. “The Hong Kong population is ageing fast. It is high time to break the age barriers in our workplace culture.” He added that 35-percent of the respondents (male and female were the same results) said they experienced some form of age discrimination in the past five years, and these tended to be those aged 40+, with the older you are, the more common it was (age 40 to 49, 36 percent; 50 to 59, 67 percent; 60+, 78 percent).

And the myth that it will be expensive when employers retain experienced workers? He debunked it by saying that most people who come back to work after retirement are in need of a desk rather than money. “They want the status and to be respected. They want to share their experiences with others. At their age, they are already done with family commitments.”

 

Recommendations

One shouldn't be defined by age.

He further shared his recommendations for the Hong Kong’s Government:

• The Hong Kong Special Administrative Regional Government should start conducting large-scale prevalence survey of age discrimination regularly to collect public views on the issue and monitor the trend of age discrimination.

• As a start, the Labour Department should further promote the “Practical Guidelines for Employers on Eliminating Age Discrimination in Employment” in order to raise employers’ awareness of providing equal opportunities and an inclusive working environment for employees of all ages.

• Before the introduction of age discrimination legislation, the Government might consider the experiences of Singapore in implementing phased retirement under the Retirement and Re-employment Act by offering re-employment to eligible employees who are going to reach the retirement age.

• In view of facilitating re-employment of mature people, the Government should review the existing relevant licensing policies and statutory requirements that set an age criterion in some specific industries and examine if the age limit is objectively justified.

• Both the Government and the insurance industry should explore means to overcome the hurdle of high insurance premium for hiring mature workers.

• To promote the employability of young people, the government should take the initiative to collaborate with education institutions and the business sector to provide more internships and trainee programmes for undergraduates/fresh graduates.

• The government may take the initiative to create regular part-time or job-sharing posts in government departments as a pilot scheme to accumulate the experience for such new modes of employment for mature workers, and encourage Government contractors, statutory bodies and the private sector to follow.

• The Government may consider the feasibility of providing some financial incentives to raise the mature people’s labour force participation rate.

Prof Chan shared that his report was made public, and was submitted to the Hong Kong Government in March 2016 and they will likely not respond till after the Chief Executive election in March 2017.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

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