Part I: The Silver Workplace – Supporting aging workers

Hong Kong has the longest lived people on the planet. In a city with On Sunday, Dr Law Chi-kwong, Secretary for Labour and Welfare, wrote in his blog post that the government is encouraging employment of the elderly.

In the face of “silver tsunami”, the Labour Department encourages employers to adopt elderly-friendly employment policies and delay the employment age in order to allow the older staff to continue to work.

“Due to better healthcare, more older people can continue to work. Around 60 percent of male aged 60 to 64 are not retired yet,” said Dr Law.

He also noted that there is also no statutory retirement age in Hong Kong, hence many professionals in the private sector who are getting older are still working.

Global examples

In July, the LegCo published a report to look at policies in Singapore and Japan for promoting employment of those aged 65 or above.

The two Asian countries saw 23.5 percent and 26.8 percent of the labour force participation rate of the elderly. The corresponding figure in Hong Kong was only 11 percent in 2017.

Both countries have raised their statutory retirement to age 60 from between 55 to 60 in Japan, and 62 in Singapore.

On the contrary, there is no such statutory age for people to retire in Hong Kong.

In Japan, employers are required to make employment possible for older workers till aged 65. Under the new rules, they need to abolish the retirement age, raise it to at least 65, or introduce a continued employment system if the retirement age is below 65.

Singapore has adopted similar policies. The Retirement and Re-employment Act requires the employers to re-hire workers who reach 62 till the age of 65, otherwise they must pay a one-off Employment Assistance Payment.

Both governments also provide subsidies as incentives.

In Japan, employers who lift the retirement age to 65 or above, improve the work environment for older workers, and hire older workers are eligible to receive subsidies.

Meanwhile, Singapore provides subsidies for low-paid employees who continue working and for employers who improve the work environment for older staff.

Japan has taken a further step to pass the anti-age discrimination legislation, while Singapore discourages early retirement by restricting early lump-sum withdrawal of retirement savings before the age of 65.

Old dogs, new tricks

One measure that Hong Kong has in similar to Singapore’s is retraining older workers.

Singapore funds courses for workers to upgrade their skills, while the Hong Kong government provides subsidies to employers for on-the-job training for their elderly staff.

But so far, there is no legislation in Hong Kong against age discrimination or for mandatory re-employment of older workers.

“Ageism still exists in workplace. We encourage the employers to judge by ability rather than age,” says, Dr Lam Ching-choi, chairman of the Elderly Commission.

“We need to change how the society looks at the elderly, who can be healthy and active,” he says. “We should create an elderly-friendly work environment for them to continue to contribute to the society. It is important to give them a choice.”