Round-Up Speech at Parliament Sitting November 2021
Minister For Manpower Dr Tan See Leng, Parliament House
- Mr Speaker, let me begin by thanking Members for their suggestions and support for the Retirement and Re-employment (Amendment) Bill and the CPF (Amendment) Bill.There were many points raised, reflecting the wide spectrum of views and the common interest we share in supporting our senior workers and fellow Singaporeans.
- Allow me to make a few general points before I address specific comments from Members on the Bills.
- I thank Members for their various suggestions on CPF, as well as our retirement and re-employment policies. We constantly and continually review our policies, and we will take Members’ suggestions into consideration.
- Members recognise that legislation is not everything, and the speeches have touched on the need to adjust our culture and mindsets as a society and as businesses.
- Members also touched on important questions, which the Tripartite Workgroup on Older Workers had deliberated on extensively. In doing so, they considered the many perspectives which emerged from their public engagements, before arriving at their very balanced recommendations.
- On the issue of whether a statutory retirement age is still needed, as highlighted by Mr Yip Hon Weng, Ms Sylvia Lim and Associate Professor Jamus Lim, the Workgroup had considered this carefully. It looked at the experiences of other countries, and found that countries without the equivalent of a statutory retirement age do not necessarily have better employment rates for senior workers, despite some of them having anti-discrimination legislation.
- Some progressive employers may take the initiative to abolish their internal retirement ages and allow workers to work as long as they wish, and we wholeheartedly applaud them. But as Mr Heng Chee How emphasised, the statutory retirement and re-employment age is still important as a floor and safeguard against employers who might not be as progressive.
- The continued relevance of this approach is borne out by facts – Singapore’s average effective retirement age has risen faster than the OECD average. These considerations, and the data that support them, are captured in the Workgroup’s comprehensive report, and I encourage Members to study the report.
- On pace of implementation, the tripartite partners negotiated this very carefully, before arriving at a consensus. The plan to raise the retirement age and re-employment age to 65 and 70 respectively by the end of the decade is ambitious, but achievable. The first increase will take place on 1 July 2022, on schedule. The timing of future adjustments will depend on prevailing economic conditions, but the resolve to stay the course is clear.
- Mr Louis Ng asked why the range of retirement age that the Manpower Minister can prescribe in the law is being reduced from 62-67 years to 62-65 years. Before 2012, the concept of re-employment had not been introduced yet, so the only lever we had was the retirement age.
- But since then, we have seen how the concept of retirement age and re-employment age works well in combination. After consultation with stakeholders, the tripartite partners have agreed to continue with this strategy, and beyond raising the retirement age to 65 by 2030, they have also agreed to raise the re-employment age to 70.
- The proposed legislative amendments thus fully reflect the tripartite consensus on this roadmap. This is our model – tripartite consultation with stakeholders, tripartite consensus, and then tripartite implementation, with legal changes to reflect the plan. We do not rule out future changes to our approach, and this model of constructive tripartism will ensure that we are able to adapt and respond to such needs in future decades.
Ensuring fair re-employment
- Mr Sharael Taha, Mr Yip Hon Weng, Ms Ng Ling Ling, Ms Joan Pereira and Ms Mariam Jaafar have spoken on the need to ensure that employers fulfil their re-employment obligations, and that re-employment offers are fair. I agree, and the system has worked well for us thus far. Tripartite partners have agreed upon a reasonable set of Guidelines, laying out employers’ and employees’ responsibilities.
- I will just highlight a few guidelines that are more relevant to the situations that Members have raised.
- First, early communication and discussion is critical to ensure that re-employment offers are reasonable to both parties. The Tripartite Guidelines on the Re-employment of Older Employees make clear that employers should engage employees at least 6 months before they reach retirement age.
- Second, on the issue of medical fitness, they should offer re-employment to eligible workers who are medically fit to perform any job within the company, not just their existing job role. Employers are also advised to presume that their senior employees are medically fit, unless there are clear reasons to believe otherwise. To Ms Ng Ling Ling’s concern, having chronic conditions alone cannot be used to justify denial of re-employment, if it does not affect their ability to perform the job.
- The re-employment framework is designed to balance the need to enable senior workers to continue working, while giving employers sufficient flexibility so that businesses can remain nimble and sustainable. Different businesses may also face different challenges, so we must strike a very careful balance. I thank Ms Janet Ang for sharing her journey and views towards retirement as a senior executive. Indeed, different individuals have different needs and expectations as they approach retirement. While some want to stay in their current roles, others may desire a job role with reduced work intensity, or see themselves trying out new roles.
- This is why tripartite partners have agreed that employers and employees should be given the flexibility to negotiate adjustments to the job roles, wages and benefits, as long as they are reasonable and based on factors like productivity, responsibilities, skills and the employer’s wage system. Notwithstanding this, the vast majority of re-employed workers continue on their existing contract or a new contract in the same job. More than 95% of workers re-employed in the same job did not experience any cuts to wage and benefits.
- If an employer has considered all available re-employment options within the organisation and is unable to identify a suitable job for the senior worker, the firm may offer him or her an Employment Assistance Payment (EAP) as a last resort. Let me reiterate this is a last resort, to help the worker tide over while he or she seeks alternative employment. To Ms Nadia Samdin and Mr Patrick Tay’s queries about the sufficiency of the EAP amount, a fine balance was struck by the Tripartite Workgroup. If the EAP is too high, it may deter employers from hiring jobseekers who are approaching retirement age. If the EAP is too low, employers may too readily offer to pay the EAP. Nevertheless, tripartite partners agreed to increase the minimum and maximum EAP amounts from 1 July 2022 onwards, in tandem with growth in general wage levels.
- Ms Ng Ling Ling also asked about the success rate for conciliation of re-employment disputes. After more than ten years of implementation, we find that the majority of cases are often resolved expeditiously at mediation. This leaves a few cases that need to be surfaced to the Employment Claims Tribunal (ECT) for adjudication.
Tackling ageism and age discrimination
- Mr Sharael Taha, Ms Janet Ang, Mr Liang Eng Hwa, Mr Henry Quek, Ms Yeo Wan Ling, Mr Gan Thiam Poh, Ms Joan Pereira, Mr Yip Hon Weng and Ms Nadia Samdin also highlighted ageism and discriminatory employment practices as a concern. We agree that ageism and workplace discrimination of any form have no place in Singapore.
- As Members have noted in their speeches, the Tripartite Committee on Workplace Fairness which I co-chair is deliberating on the scope of legislation to address workplace discrimination. We are making progress in the discussions and hope to finalise our recommendations by the first half of 2022.
Protecting the employability of our seniors
- I am glad that Members’ speeches in this House over the past two days also recognise that legislation is not a panacea. In this regard, I agree with Mr Heng Chee How, who has very wisely pointed out that strengthening the employability of our senior workers cannot start only when they are near retirement age. There is a need to invest in re-training and employment facilitation not only for our senior workers, but also the future cohorts of senior workers. As what Mr Patrick Tay has highlighted, employers play an instrumental role in this, and we are committed to provide the necessary assistance, including funding support. To Ms Nadia Samdin’s query on the extension of the Senior Employment Credit beyond 2022, we will also study it and update in due course.
- I have already spoken extensively on the various ways that the Government is supporting upskilling and employment opportunities for senior workers in my response to several Parliamentary Questions last month. So today I will just highlight the critical roles that our tripartite partners NTUC and SNEF play in this endeavour.
- The Company Training Committees (CTCs) established by NTUC early this year are making their impact felt.
The CTCs bring together the employers, HR and employee representatives to identify gaps and opportunities, and develop the necessary training plans to align a company’s workforce to its business transformation roadmap.
This ensures that our senior workers’ training needs are correctly identified, to enable them to contribute productively for many more years.
- As highlighted by Mr Sharael Taha, Mr Abdul Samad and Ms Janet Ang, it is also important for companies to have structured career planning conversations with their employees, especially for those in their 40s or 50s.
This allows training needs and suitable job roles to be identified early.
Employees will also be more motivated to pick up new skills if they have a clearer picture of how they fit in their companies’ future plans.
We are working with both SNEF and NTUC to encourage more employers to do so.
- There are many other areas where tripartite partners have been working closely on, including encouraging job redesign and flexible working arrangements, which Mr Yip Hon Weng, Mr Sharael Taha, Mr Henry Kwek, Mr Liang Eng Hwa, Mr Patrick Tay, Mr Ang Wei Neng and Ms Nadia Samdin have raised. We encourage tripartite partners to do more, and we will continue to give our fullest support.
- Even as we make these legislative changes today, we will also continue to work with tripartite partners to study best practices and review our framework where necessary to ensure its continued relevance. As mentioned by Mr Shawn Huang and Ms Yeo Wan Ling, it is also important for our workers to adopt a lifelong learning mindset. Continuing education and training are just as important as pre-employment training, as a means for our workers to upgrade their skills, remain relevant, and keep pace with global trends and developments.
- Let me now address members’ points on the CPF Amendment Bill.
Simplifying the CPF system for members
No Change to CPF Withdrawal Policies
- First, in response to points made by Mr Yip Hon Weng, Mr Liang Eng Hwa, Ms Cheryl Chan and Mr Gan Thiam Poh, let me reiterate that the proposed amendments to the CPF Act will not change the rules for the CPF lump sum withdrawals or other social support schemes like Silver Support.
- On CPF withdrawals, Mr Abdul Samad and Associate Professor Jamus Lim suggested to allow members to start their CPF monthly payouts earlier, while on the other hand, Mr Saktiandi Supaat suggested to start later. First, let me reassure everyone, Government has not suggested changing the Payout Eligibility Age. The Payout Eligibility Age is not linked to the retirement or re-employment age. The current Payout Eligibility Age of 65 strikes a balance between timely access to retirement income, and provides sufficient runway for members to build up savings for retirement, especially as Singaporeans are expected to live longer. Members continue to have the option to defer payouts for higher monthly payouts. In fact, yesterday I shared that for every year that they defer after the age of 65, that increase could be up to 7%. Members will also continue to have the flexibility to make lumpsum withdrawals from age 55, years before they start their CPF monthly payouts. The banker friend that Associate Professor Jamus Lim has is likely to be as successful as him, and able to withdraw amounts well beyond the retirement sum at 55. This includes the $5,000 that he can withdraw unconditionally, and the amounts in excess of his Basic Retirement Sum given he will likely own a property.
- Similarly, the amendments to Section 15 of the CPF Act are only intended to simplify it, and not alter the underlying policies and operational flexibilities. Mr Louis Ng, Ms Ng Ling Ling, Mr Saktiandi Supaat, Ms Cheryl Chan and Ms Yeo Wan Ling asked what constitutes a “significant condition” in the Bill. Today, members with conditions of any kind, including auto-immune or neurological diseases, can qualify for early withdrawal of CPF savings if they are certified by a doctor as having a reduced life expectancy, being permanently unfit to work, or lacking mental capacity. These are now collectively referred to as “significant conditions”.
- The Bill provides for these same grounds to be prescribed in the Regulations. Therefore, there are no changes to the qualifying rules for early CPF withdrawal. I thank Ms Yeo Wan Ling for her observations on how decisions could be communicated to CPF members and would like to assure that the CPF Board will certainly be mindful of her concerns. To Ms He Ting Ru's point, I would like to clarify that members with reduced life expectancy will indeed be able to benefit from the automatic disbursement of Ordinary and Special Account monies that I mentioned in my speech yesterday.
- On Ms Ng Ling Ling’s suggestion to allow waiver of loan repayments under the CPF Education Loan Scheme for such members, I am happy to confirm that the CPF Board already does so today on a case-by-case basis.
- In simplifying the CPF system, the CPF Board will also ensure that implementation is smooth for its members. On the top-up rules and the position of givers, the CPF Board will take into account Mr Louis Ng’s and Ms Joan Pereira’s suggestions.
- I do believe that Singaporeans top up to their loved ones’ CPF accounts out of the generosity of their hearts, and to help boost their loved ones' retirement adequacy. This simplification should therefore not discourage top-ups. The objective is to simplify things for members, in response to feedback that the existing rules today can be confusing. Some top-ups are refunded to givers when their recipients exit the CPF system, while, as Mr Saktiandi Supaat observed, other top-ups are treated as gifts to recipients and not refunded, including cash top-ups made after 2008.
- Mr Louis Ng, Mr Saktiandi Supaat, Ms Mariam Jafaar and Ms Hany Soh spoke about facilitating the disbursement of nominated monies. The CPF Board already reaches out to nominees, including those overseas, once it is notified of a member's death, and disburses the monies within a month, having allowed time for medical institutions to deduct any medical bills from the deceased member's MediSave Account. Nonetheless, the CPF Board has plans to continuously streamline the disbursement process for nominated CPF monies, and I thank Ms Hany Soh for her suggestion on this.
- Beyond simplifying policies and streamlining processes, the CPF Board will also continue to strengthen its public education and outreach efforts, as Mr Melvin Yong and Ms Cheryl Chan highlighted. This will include educating members on the benefits of CPF top-ups to self and loved ones; nudging members to make nominations; making clear that nominations, like wills, are indeed revoked upon marriage; and clarifying the treatment of CPF monies upon members' passing, as alluded to by Mr Gan Thiam Poh, Mr Saktiandi Supaat, Ms Hany Soh and Ms He Ting Ru, as well as Ms Joan Pereira respectively. We will also explore Ms Hany Soh’s suggestion to send notifications to divorcees to prompt them to review their nominations.
- Several Members of the House have provided feedback on policies which are not quite within the scope of today’s Bill. For example, Ms Ng Ling Ling and Ms Cheryl Chan on the allocation of monies across CPF accounts, Mr Yip Hon Weng on the Basic Retirement Sum, Mr Ang Wei Neng and Mr Gan Thiam Poh on housing issues, Mr Patrick Tay and Ms Cheryl Chan on self-employed persons, as well as Mr Saktiandi Supaat on tax-approved group corporate retirement plans. The Government will take all these into consideration as we review our policies from time to time.
- Finally, on the raising of CPF contribution rates for senior workers, I thank Mr Henry Kwek, Mr Ang Wei Neng and Mr Edward Chia for their support on our longer-term plans, including the eventual full contribution rates for workers aged between 55 and 60. The Government will support employers through the CPF Transition Offset, which Mr Heng Chee How, Mr Melvin Yong, Mr Gan Thiam Poh and Ms Nadia Samdin have all touched on. This will be implemented on 1 Jan 2022 as part of the Senior Worker Support Package, in tandem with the first increase in CPF contribution rates for senior workers.
- In closing, I would like to thank Members of the House for their support of the Bills.
- The two Bills will help our members in three main ways.
- Together, the Bills will help our members better prepare for and enjoy their retirement.
But the work does not stop here. We are confident that further progress on senior worker employment will be made. We will continue to simplify rules and improve communications to CPF members.
- With the support of Members of House, businesses, unions, and most importantly, Singaporeans, we will be a more inclusive economy and society.
- Mr Speaker, I beg to move.