Tuesday, May 23, 2023


One idea to consider is to let workers decide for themselves and be given the option to work as long as they are able to, or need to, says gerontologist Lily Fu. Photo: 123rf.com

Thursday, 11 May 2023


Former PM Tun Mahathir, once jokingly said the new retirement age in Malaysia will be 95 when he hands over his premiership to his successor. That was in 2018. He may have said it in jest but at the rate our demography chart is changing, Malaysia will reach ageing nation status by 2030, when we will see more people working well into their 70s. This is inevitable.

When the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) was set up in 1951, life expectancy then, believe it or not, was 55! With the retirement age set at 55, lump sum EPF withdrawals would be more than sufficient to sustain contributors through the short retirement period. We now know those figures were way off the mark. Advances in science, medicine and technology have drastically extended life span. Life expectancy in Malaysia currently stands at 76, and is set to rise further in the years ahead. 60 is the new 40, and living to a ripe old age of 80 and beyond is fast becoming the norm.

But what good is a longer life span if we do not have sufficient savings to enjoy those extra years? According to EPF figures, 51.5% of its 6.67 million members under the age of 55 have less than Rm10,000 savings. EPF’s 2019 Expenditure Guide for Malaysian individuals and families in the Klang estimates that an elderly couple living in the Klang Valley would need at least RM3090 a month for living expenses, or at least RM240,000 in savings by the time they retire at 55. With prices escalating and inflation showing no sign of abating, for those living in the urban areas, this figure will be grossly inadequate in the years to come.

With longer life span, retirees in their 60s-70s have elderly parents in their 80s-90s to look after. Long term age care alone for their parents will eat up whatever savings they may have. What about their own medical and healthcare expenses? The family structure has changed so drastically that parents can no longer expect their adult children to support them in their old age. Family size has shrunk, and with the grown children moving out to work or settle elsewhere, older couples are often left to fend for themselves.

That is why more and more retirees are returning to work life almost immediately after retirement. And older workers want to continue working past 60. Except for those with ample savings, most older workers especially those from the lower socio-economic group can ill-afford to stop working. 

But getting a job is easier said than done. Older workers face age discrimination in the workplace. Unless they have skills that are highly sought after, and unless the government offers a helping hand to retrain and upskill older workers, many have difficulty re-entering the job market once they have left it. It certainly doesn’t help when the public has a negative perception of older persons as frail, senile and a burden to support.

We are moving rapidly into an ageing society. Businesses that deal with retail, travel and hospitality, for example, would do well to employ more silver-haired staff to cater to customers in the older age group. Indeed, older people make good workers. Here’s why.

They are mature and conscientious. They are committed to their job, and do not job-hop. They have excellent people skills, and are experienced in handling crisis and emergencies. Older customers definitely feel more comfortable with older sales personnel who understand their needs and tastes much better. They are also more patient and confident in handling customers’ requests or complaints.

On the other hand, unless they have much-needed skills or expertise, older workers seeking to re-enter the workforce should not be too picky about job offers and be prepared to accept lower remunerations and fewer benefits.

In acknowledging the plight of retirees and those nearing retirement age, the government has sought to increase job opportunities by offering tax incentives for employers hiring older Malaysians. More companies are offering pre-retirement courses to help their soon-to-retire employees prepare for the years ahead. Whether this will make a significant difference remains to be seen.

One thing is for certain - we can expect the retirement age to continue going up in tandem with the rise in life expectancy. In developed countries such as Singapore and Japan, life expectancy is 82.8 and 84.8 respectively. The retirement age is moving towards 65. Former PM of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, famously said that 'retirement means death', and was in favour of doing away with the retirement age.

Let workers decide for themselves. They should be given the option to work as long as they are able to, or need to. 

As it is, we are already complaining about escalating prices and soaring expenses. With inflation eating into our nest egg, we just have to keep on bringing home the bacon, especially if we have college-going children and elderly parents to support. 

When older workers continue working, everyone benefits. The older workers themselves can remain self-supporting. For young people, they can be thankful that their working parents can fend for themselves and not be a financial burden to them. The government can save billions that would otherwise have to be spent on welfare aid for older citizens. Companies will be able to address labour shortage by hiring from a big pool of mature workers.

So, whichever way we look at the situation, the retirement age will have to be raised. The likelihood of doing away with a retirement age altogether will gain traction in the years ahead. Let's just hope it won't reach a situation where we have to work until we drop dead!

(The above article was first published in The Star under the monthly column 'GREY MATTERS'.)

Saturday, April 29, 2023


Unless we have prepared well, the years after retirement can be far from golden. — 123rf.com

Wednesday 12 April 2023

Working folks envy their colleagues who have retired. No more nine to five, no more taking orders from the boss, no more stress from meeting deadlines or worrying about ROI.

They have all the time now to do what they like, go where they want and be able to finally pursue their dreams, whether it’s to travel, take up a new hobby or get a degree.

This is an idealised picture of retirement. Unless we have prepared well, the retirement years can be far from golden. Just take a walk in the inner-city streets, the back alleys, or visit low-cost flats (PPR). You will see the other side of retirement. Not a pretty picture.

Every so often we read about an elderly abandoned at the bus-stop or at a hospital.

According to the Social Welfare Department (JKM), about 2000 elderly have checked into welfare homes over the past five years. The actual figure is probably much higher. An estimated 71% of EPF contributors do not have enough savings to live above the poverty line.

To be fair, there have been improvements over the years. Senior citizens enjoy discounts on public transport. Medical care is practically free at government clinics, and easily affordable at public hospitals. Elder-friendly facilities are now fixtures in public buildings, and there are special lanes in government departments to serve the elderly.

There are plans to have an activity centre for seniors (Pusat Activiti Warga Emas or PAWE) in every parliamentary constituency. The grant for each PAWE to run the centre has been raised from RM33,330 to RM50,000 annually. All very good, but these improvements have been long overdue, and are a very small step towards preparing for the future.

There are plans to have an activity centre for seniors (PAWE) in every parliamentary constituency such as this one in Taman Medan, Petaling Jaya. The grant for each PAWE to run the centre has been raised from RM33,330 to RM50,000 annually. These improvements have been long overdue, and are a very small step towards preparing for the future. - Filepic

Based on findings of the on-going Malaysia Ageing and Retirement Survey (MARS) conducted by Universiti Malaya’s Social Wellbeing Research Centre, and involving 5,613 respondents, Malaysia will be classified as a super-aged nation by 2056 when 20% of the population is aged 65 and above.

Academicians and researchers on ageing have conducted countless surveys over the years. It is such a waste of time, money and effort when nothing much happens after they have presented their findings to the government.

The proposal to introduce legislations against elder abuse and abandonment has been brought up now and then over the past two decades. Each time the issue raises a storm of controversy, then the buzz fizzles out till the next time it is mentioned again in Parliament.

As an example, in Sept 2019, then Deputy PM and Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail announced the Senior Citizens Bill would be tabled in Parliament in early 2021.

With the subsequent change in government, the bill was left in limbo. Fast forward to March 2023. Current Deputy Minister Aiman Athirah Sabu, in responding to a question, said the bill would be tabled in Parliament for the first reading in 2024! When that time comes, will there be yet another delay? Will the same scenario repeat itself?

Speaking in the Dewan Rakyat recently, Women’s Minister Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri, commended the National Senior Citizens Advisory and Consultative Council (MPPWEN) on their role they played. The council meets only twice a year. The urgency is not there.

There is a crying need for an inter-ministerial committee on Ageing. Any action plan on ageing should involve more than just the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry.

NGOs, CSOs and representatives from the B40 group should also be at the table. These are the grassroot leaders who are familiar with the problems faced and are directly impacted by any decisions made. They speak from lived experience, and their voices should be heard.

Bear in mind proposals and plans are just that, on paper and in discussions in meeting rooms where the elderly who are the target group do not have a seat at the table.

Even when Acts and Bills are passed, implementation is painfully slow due to bureaucratic red tape. The Social Welfare Department (JKM) has too much on its plate: from the welfare of women, children, senior citizens, OKU to the community at large.

Each demographic group has its own set of issues to deal with. When resources are limited, priority is often given to women, children and youths.

After all, for the elderly their days are numbered. They do not contribute much to the economy and in fact are seen as a drain on limited resources for welfare.

These retirees and pensioners, mostly in their 70s and 80s, have contributed much to nation-building in their younger days. Now in their twilight years, they are overlooked, if not forgotten in the broader scheme of things.

The haves can take care of themselves. Our concern is the have-nots – theB40 elderly and those living without family support. Aside from the crumbs given to senior citizens at every Budget allocation, they are often shut out in the job market, and denied opportunities to better themselves.

What they need is sustained financial support, not one-off handouts as and when, and also access to long-term health care. How long do the elderly have to wait for better days ahead in the time they have left? It is a time bomb ticking away when we consider the ramifications an ageing population presents.

(The above article was originally published in Star Silver pullout of The Star under the column 'Grey Matters'.)