Jenita Kanapathy reflects on how Singapore law and regulation looks after the welfare of its elderly.
This article reflects the personal opinion(s) of the writer(s), and does not necessarily represent the views of the Bar Council.
A few months back before the movement control order, my family and I decided to eat out in a humble restaurant serving an assortment of Malaysian cuisine from Nasi Lemak to pre-cooked lunch dishes. However, this humble restaurant is particularly famous for its “Appam” or hoppers.
As we got ourselves seated in the restaurant, I could not help myself but cast my eyes on the table across ours. The table which could fit eight was full; with six elderly women and two young people engaged in joyful chitter-chatter. It was a mix crowd from all ethnic background. But there was one common thing, whenever they communicated with the two young people, they used sign language. I found this interesting and unashamedly eavesdropped on their conversation. Soon, it became clear to me that this was a reunion of retired special-school teachers and the two young people were their former students.
It dawned on me that these ex-teachers even after retirement were in contact with their former students; offering them valuable support and encouragement. My heart was moved by the gestures of these former teachers as they still have the capacity to actively contribute to society, post-retirement. But are we depriving them from doing more by forcing them to retire from active service despite having the energy to serve?
Malaysia – An ageing nation
By 2035, our nation is estimated to be an aged nation with 7% of the population above 65 and by 2040, about 15% of the population is said to be a senior citizen. This would definitely put the working class under more stress as they would need to support this growing aged population in our nation from 2035 onwards.
The Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 (SPV2030) by the Government identified senior citizens as one of the target groups in their implementation. In addition, the Government also announced that they are committed to legislate Acts to protect the rights and welfare of the elderly. But what shape this Act will take, still remains to be seen? Perhaps it would be good to take a look at our Not-So-Young neighbour, Singapore, for some answers.
Looking at our Not-So-Young Neighbour
As a nation, Singapore is younger than Malaysia but in 2019, nearly 15% of her residents are aged 65 or above and it is estimated that by 2030, 1 in 4 Singaporeans will be aged 65 and above. Also, by 2030, the old-age support ratio will be 1 to 2 which means that there will be 1 senior citizen of every 2 working adults aged between 20 and 64 years old.
With a shrinking workforce and ageing demography, how is Singapore facing these challenges? Their first step is to start early with carefully crafted progressive governance and community-based policies that would provide financial sustainability to senior citizens.
Early on, Singapore legislated some laws that would protect the financial well-being of their senior citizens amongst which are the Maintenance of Parents Act (1995) and the Retirement and Re-employment Act (1993).
Maintenance of Parents Act (1995)
The Maintenance of Parents Act was originally enacted in 1995 and subsequently revised to its current form in 1996. The said Act legally provides for the maintenance of parents by their children.
The mechanism stipulated in this Act makes provision for parents to legally require children to pay for maintenance. It establishes a Tribunal with discretionary powers to mediate over maintenance cases.
By imposition of this law, filial piety is legally enforced so children would not negate their responsibility to take care of their parents. Some argue that this will lead to strained relationships between parents and children, but the writer opines that parents will not resort to taking legal actions against their children if they are cared for, in the first place.
Filial piety laws would also ensure that family responsibilities will not be shifted entirely to the State. Every tier of society from family to community to the State will share the burden of taking care of the elderly and this particular law starts with the family.
Retirement and Re-employment Act (1993)
This Act makes provision for the retirement of employees at the age of 62 years. However, the employer is required by law to continue the employment of any employee after the age of 62 years old if they meet re-employment criteria set forth therein.
In the event, the employers are unable to re-employ then two options are available to the employee. The first, he may be re-employed by another employee and if this is not acceptable then he can opt for the Employment Assistance Payment (EAP) from his/her employer.
This law is particularly designed to keep the senior citizens in the workforce as long as possible and ensure adequate human capital is available for this City State creating a win-win situation for the nation and the individual.
Singapore also complemented its legal measures with community and individual-based policies to address its ageing population. Some of its measures include:
The Singapore government established the National Silver Academy to promote life-long learning programmes for senior citizens to keep them active mentally and to keep abreast with current knowledge. At the same time, the interaction with members of society through learning will enhance their self-worth and esteem.
Special learning courses were designed at the National Silver Academy with senior citizens in mind. Some short courses cover a wide range of life skills on top of work skills and citizens above 50 years are eligible for subsidies to offset course fees for selected courses.
Other types of learning opportunities also encompass inter-generational learning modules where the young are paired with senior citizens on selected topics called Ad-Hoc Learning Opportunities.
For those seniors interested in full-qualification programmes but do not want the hassle of sitting for exams, there are courses offered via existing programmes conducted by polytechnics, universities and other learning institutes for a token fee.
Also, very short courses called bite-sized courses lasting a few hours that are held at convenient public places such public libraries are purposefully designed to attract seniors with limited time and financial resources but yet desire to learn new skills.
By acquiring new and emerging skills, they can now have the freedom to earn a living in a flexible working environment that would suit them such as working from home, flexi-hours etc. that are not bound by rigid company rules or they can also be a part of the gig economy, earning a living at their own pace and leisure.
The schemes under these grants are aimed at augmenting the local manpower, fostering progressive and age-friendly workplace and jobs, and last but not least, to strengthen the Singaporean core.
There are 3 types of grants provided by the Singaporean government under WorkPro.
Age Management Grant
Under this grant, Companies can apply for funding up to SGD20,000 per company to enhance awareness of age management practices, build competency with regards to age management practices and support implementation of good age management practices in their companies.
Job Redesign Grant
This grant provides funds up to SGD300,000 per company and multiple project applications are allowed for companies to create easier, safer and smarter jobs for older workers aged 50 years and above.
Enhanced Work-Life Grant
This grant was introduced from 1st July 2018 and provides funding up to SGD 105,000 per company to implement measures to adopt and sustain flexible work arrangements such as flexi-load, flexi-place and flexi-time.
The employees under flexible work arrangement shall be working on a regular basis and not casual or ad-hoc employees.
Social Risk Pooling
Singapore implemented social risk-pooling mechanisms to hedge against longevity risk such as unexpected health shocks and outliving financial resources.
Compulsory Annuity Schemes such as the Central Provident Fund Lifelong Income for the Elderly (CPF LIFE) covers income needs for retirees though monthly pay-outs during the lifetime of policyholders.
Universal health care schemes such as the MediShield which offers coverage for Singaporeans against high medical expenses and selected outpatient treatments. This scheme insures Singaporeans from birth.
The ageing population is an increasing problem in Asia and Malaysia will not be spared from this as she is estimated to have only another 15 years before becoming an aged nation. The ageing problem will be accentuated as compared to Singapore due to the scale of Malaysia’s geography and population size.
Therefore, we need to start planning and formulating a road map for sustainable and progressive governance and socio-economic policies from now so that we will be ready in the coming 10 years or so to face the inevitable Silver Tsunami.