THE JOURNAL consists of selected, most notable and newsworthy POSTINGS OF THE DAY.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Senior Citizens

When the average Malaysian lives for well over 70 years, it is an absolute travesty that he has to retire at 56 (in the public sector) and 55 in the private sector, which has by and large not adopted the government's move to offer employees the option of retiring at 56.

And if one bears in mind that the life expectancy figure is an average, those who actually reach retirement age could live for much longer than 70 years. For the vast majority of people retirement is a time of foreboding and fear, a time of great uncertainty when you don't know how to support yourself.

This is especially true for the lower income group with parents in their older age becoming an unwanted burden to their children and having to suffer the indignity of being supported by their children because, although able-bodied, they are unable to find suitable employment.

The government, many of whose Cabinet members including the Prime Minister are way above retirement age, must realise that with increasing health standards not only the life expectancy of people but their useful working lives increase in duration too. They should have embarked long ago on increasing the retirement age.

The move to give an option for public employees to increase it by a year was a step in the right direction but not to give the same option to private sector employees was not. More, much more, should be done to progressively increase the option to retire to 65 years or more.

The Malaysian Trades Union Congress has asked for the retirement age to be raised to 60 in the public sector from 56 currently. This is a good first step but the private sector should be required to follow suit. There is actually no loss of promotional opportunities for anyone because everyone could work longer if they wanted to.

The government and the private sector can have the benefit of the experience and wisdom of older employees and while they will have to pay higher salaries to more experienced staff, these will be mitigated by the better quality of work they get. If employers manage properly the opportunities from this, both workers and employers will benefit.

Longer term, the government should think of increasing the retirement age even further as health and living standards improve and allow those who want to work to continue to support themselves while making a contribution to society.

There has to be shift in our thinking to enable older people to make a continuing and valuable contribution to society. Society owes it to itself and to its senior citizens to tap into this pool of expertise and to allow the older folk to continue to support themselves financially.

Senior Citizens

The increase in the life expectancy is a creditable effort of the successive governments from independence to now at improving the health care in the country and the increased knowledge of the average citizen with regards diet and exercise in improving his life.

What this means is that we have a larger pool of Senior Citizens and the Government should look into their needs and welfare more as in the West in our quest to attain developed nation status.

To bring about a caring society, the government should have a ministry or part of a ministry to implement various programmes for this group of citizens who have contributed so much to national development and are now a completely forgotten lot.

Suggested Programmes

1. Define the age for Senior Citizenship. Right now it is 56 for government and 55 for private sector. It is suggested that 55 be the national Senior Citizen age to encompass all citizens.

2. Pension increments similar to civil servant increments must be given to meet the increased cost of living throughout the last 50 years of independence.The Pensioners Association has made several requests throughout the years but to no avail. It does not mean that once civil servants retire they can be forgotten.

3. Special discounts and fares at all hospitals/clinics, travel points like coaches, train, planes, entertainment outlets, etc, etc and it be made mandatory.

4. Special priority counters/lanes at all service points like banks, post offices, airlines, etc and it be made mandatory.

5. Senior Citizen Cards for all senior citizens to entitle them to these special privileges.

6. Regular programmes and activities, columns in newspapers, etc. for their benefit.

Financial independence is a cornerstone of human dignity. Many senior citizens savings won't be able to support them in old age. To stop them from extending their useful working lives, making real contributions to society and being financially independent for much longer is a needless cruelty which can be easily fixed by some right-thinking policy changes - The Sun.