Thursday, September 19, 2019

SPECIAL REPORT: The workforce’s grey engine

Apr 12. 2019
Former educator Chayasamon Subsookbovorn, 61, has a new career working at Tesco Lotus’ Laksi branch. She’s among 1,200 seniors brought back into the workforce since mid-March under a Labour Ministry programme. The target for the year is 100,000.
Former educator Chayasamon Subsookbovorn, 61, has a new career working at Tesco Lotus’ Laksi branch. She’s among 1,200 seniors brought back into the workforce since mid-March under a Labour Ministry programme. The target for the year is 100,000.
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By Phatarawadee Phataranawik
The Nation Weekend

12,158 Viewed

The government’s efforts to keep more seniors on the job are bound to pay dividends for our ageing society

Former educator Chayasamon Subsookbovorn, 61, has a new career working at Tesco Lotus’ Laksi branch. Nation/Krobphuk Phromrekha

Six months into her retirement, former educator Chayasamon Subsookbovorn found herself constantly watching Netflix and getting genuinely depressed. She climbed out of the gloomy hole two weeks ago, landing a job at her local Tesco Lotus. 

“I feel really happy now that I’m active again,” the 61-year-old told The Nation Weekend. 

“I’m still strong and I believe my experience can help improve society,” she said. “And it’s good for my own mental fitness to be interacting with younger people. I’m not only earning some money, I’m gaining new friends.”

Money wasn’t an issue for Chayasamon, who gets a monthly pension and other social benefits. Working in client services at Tesco, she’s paid Bt300 a day, which is 10 times less than what she earned hourly as a university lecturer.

Chayasamon, who has a PhD in education administration from King Mongkut’s Technology North Bangkok, is among thousands of people age 60 and up who are being rehired into the workforce under the government’s Ruam Palang Pracharat campaign. 

The scheme is aimed at getting retired seniors back on the job and easing the cost burden of Thailand’s ageing society. Both private and public employers are keen to support the campaign. 

Thailand is among countries with rapidly increasing “grey populations”. The nearly 12 million Thais already over 60 represent 17 per cent of the total populace. 

We’ll be a full-fledged ageing society by 2021 with 13.1 million seniors – 20 per cent of the population, according to the National Economic and Social Development Board. By 2031 this will be a “super-ageing society”, 28 per cent elderly.

Petcharat Sinuay, director general of the Labour Ministry’s Employment Department, praised the Ruam Palang Pracharat programme in an interview with The Nation Weekend.

“We want to establish a sustainable, healthy ageing society,” she said. “The Bt208-million campaign is expected to create more than 100,000 jobs for seniors, of which 80,000 will be part-time. Money will also be spent on training, giving seniors new work skills.”

Since its launch in mid-March, more than 1,200 jobs have been created, Petcharat said. The ministry has signed agreements with eight government agencies, three provincial organisations and 12 private firms to provide jobs for seniors, including many as researchers, legal consultants, interpreters and even masseurs.

Embracing the scheme along with Tesco Lotus are the Se-ed bookshop chain, Index Living Mall, Toshiba, Mezzo restaurants, Central Group, CP All, the Thai Retailers Association, Bangchak Green, which deals in petroleum, and Berli Jucker, which makes consumer products.

Praiwan Polwan, director general of the Social Development and Human Security Ministry’s Department of Older Persons, said seniors are increasingly looking to return to the workforce so that their time is spent more valuably. 

“Many also want to earn some money so their families don’t have to pay as much for their upkeep. They prefer jobs that are close to where they live. This scheme finds them jobs that fit their interests and abilities and it makes sure their rights are protected too.”

More for their wellbeing than a matter of rights, seniors hired through the programme work no more than seven hours a day and six days a week, and their shifts are flexible. 

They have to be paid a minimum of Bt45 per hour and they receive free health checks and other social benefits. 

Private firms hiring them full-time can claim tax deductions worth twice the senior’s salary, up to a maximum Bt15,000.

The other big pluses for seniors are retaining their mental agility and keeping physically fit.

“It was a challenge getting used to working with a younger boss,” said a 64-year-old employed at a Se-Ed outlet in Bangkok who asked that his name not be published. “But learning to deal with the generation gap makes me happy. I love it here.”

He’s been at the bookshop for more than two years because Se-Ed pioneered the concept of hiring older persons long before it became government policy. It employs 16 seniors around the country. 

Jatusadom Techasaowapak, who is over 60,Ja stacks books at a Se-ed store. Se-ed, a publishing and book selling company, was the first to start hiring seniors almost three years ago. Nation/Suphakit Khumkun

Patrawut Thongtan, the chain’s manager of human resources, said there’s a high turnover among its senior employees because many have health issues.

“But having them around is a great help,” he said. “Senior staff members help the younger ones how to handle customers smartly and gently.

“With the tax deduction now on offer, we hope other companies will begin hiring seniors to fill the gap that’s opening with fewer young people entering the workforce.”

The gap is widening, a combined result of the ageing population and falling birth rate.

The United Nations has forecast that the proportion of seniors in Southeast Asia will double in the next two decades, from an average of 7.7 per cent in 2015 to 15.5 in 2035, on a par with global expectations. 

The proportion in Thailand will be 23.4 per cent, second in the region only to Singapore’s 31.7. The proportion in Laos and the Philippines will be lowest at about 9 per cent.

The Thai government’s preparations for our “grey future” have included raising the mandatory retirement age to 70 in professions of highly valued expertise, such as court judges. The retirement age could also rise to 63 for government officials.

The National Economic and Social Development Board meanwhile reckons there were 4.36 million seniors still on the job last year, with almost 62 per cent of them running their own businesses.

Comparisons across the region place Singapore above all other nations when it comes to getting seniors back into the workforce. Its Manpower Ministry says 26.8 per cent of people either working or looking for a job in 2017 was age 65 and up, a dramatic rise from 14.3 per cent in 2006.

The “labour force participation rate” in Japan, which has one of the world’s fastest-ageing populations, was 22.8 per cent in 2015, in South Korea 31.5 per cent.

In Singapore, rising education levels, low unemployment, long life expectancy and high standards of healthcare allow seniors to continue holding meaningful jobs well past the official retirement age of 62.

Arrangements like these are good for citizens of every country. Maintaining an older workforce not only helps the seniors and their families, studies have shown, but it’s beneficial to the economy.

“When the population aged over 60 goes up by 10 per cent, per-capita income slows by 5.5 per cent,” the Bank of Thailand said in a recent report, citing overseas observations.

As well, most Thais enter old age without adequate savings for retirement, and the state subsidy of at least Bt600 a month for seniors isn’t enough to survive on.

“The economy requires the participation of older workers because of demographic changes,” said Petcharat of the Labour Ministry. “There are far fewer young workers today compared to the past.”


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