Monday, 19 November 2012

'Elderly can replace foreign workers'

ESM Goh says curbs on manpower offer a chance to alter how seniors are perceived
By Kezia Toh, The Straits Times, 18 Nov 2012

The tightening of the supply of foreign workers gives Singapore an opportunity to change perceptions about its elderly, said Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, as firms can hire more older local workers.

It was a good time, he noted yesterday, to drive home the message to employ elderly workers and make use of their experience and skills.

"As companies find it more difficult to employ foreigners, naturally they have to look towards Singaporeans to replace the foreigners," he said.

"Older Singaporeans who have got the skills, who have got the experience, who have got the knowledge, will find it easier to get jobs."

Also, he pointed out, elderly workers do not demand high wages that bosses are not prepared to pay, but wages that are "commensurate with what they contribute to the company".

The former prime minister, who at 71 remains active, was speaking at a town hall forum on elderly issues in Marine Parade, where he is an MP. He later toured an exhibition on town improvement works, trying out elderly-friendly benches which will be installed around the estate, and was taken by surprise by a flash mob of seniors dancing to the tune of Gangnam Style.

In his speech, Mr Goh spoke about the need to do away with the negative image held by some that elderly folk were a "problem or a cost" - a call that politicians have been stressing as Singapore's population continues to age.

Another way to change perceptions about the elderly, he said, was to acknowledge their contributions in raising families, driving the economy and passing their skills on to the next generation.

Mr Goh noted that beyond improving physical facilities for the aged, Singapore also had to care for them emotionally and socially.

He cited and praised the efforts of GoodLife!, a senior activity centre in Marine Parade, where one in four residents is more than 65 years old. It runs a project that has volunteers regularly visiting seniors living alone.

The project's oldest member, retiree Tung Wai Chong, 83, says he makes it a point to stay active by doing his weekly rounds to chat with seniors and offer comfort or words of encouragement.

"I'm quite advanced in age but I still have the energy to give back to society," he said. "It keeps me fulfilled."

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