In Singapore Your Working Life Ends When You Are 40!
- You can view it in the context of the entire discussion by going to:
Losing out at 40-plus
The Star, Feb 27
MORE and more 40-plus workers are speaking out about how their lives are tossed upside down by the changing economy.
Karen Goh, 45, a customer service representative earning S$2,500 to S$3,000 a month, was laid off last year. She applied for a lower-paid position in another department in the same company eight months later.
George Thomas, 46, told the Straits Times he had lost a five-figure salary as a currency broker in Tokyo but is now happy with a S$1,600-a-month job as an administrative assistant.
Karen and George are luckier than many others around their age who have lost their jobs to restructuring.
Official statistics show that more than half (54.3%) of the 2,962 laid-off workers in the first quarter of last year were aged 40 or older.
They include executives and supervisors. Employers make it clear they prefer hiring younger people.
In August, Singapore will observe its 40th year of independence with a group of citizens most responsible for its progress probably having the least reason to celebrate.
Worst hit are those above 55. Although they enjoy some perks � such as cheaper public transport, movie tickets (weekdays) and other entertainment fees � they make up a larger proportion of Singapore�s lowly educated and sickly, and are among the first to face retrenchment.
It is ironic. Singapore�s retirement age is 62, yet middle-age workers are finding jobs hard to come by.
Premature layoff began decades ago as the republic moved into a high-tech economy. Jobs of older, less-educated workers were taken over by fresh graduates.
The upgrading was deemed crucial and therefore harshly executed.
The changes swept across the land, from political leaders to civil servants, but it was biased more towards knowledge than against the aged.
Needless to say, it caused a lot of pain when people who had given years of good service found themselves out in the cold.
As a young journalist, I remember reporting the gradual replacement of tough, street-wise CID officers with young graduates given the task of fighting crime.
Losing your job to a policy created a lot of resentment and crime-solving was initially affected.
Many senior detectives were dialect-speaking with hardly an O-level but were extremely streetwise about triads and their activities.
The transition spread throughout the civil service hierarchy, which saw an exit of senior, non-graduate officials.
It was not a money-saving exercise, since graduates required higher salaries. Salaries in fact rose. The whole society slid towards higher qualifications.
The age issue arose in politics within the ruling People�s Action Party�s itself. It was called a Self-renewal Programme.
While it swept every election, the PAP frequently replaced its own Cabinet ministers and MPs.
This intensified although the retirement age was rising from 55 to 60, then 62. Incumbent politicians were being asked to leave after three or four terms (each usually lasting four years).
On several occasions, embittered MPs complained about being retired when they were at the prime of their professional life.
Some of them were long-time warriors and close aides who had fought alongside Lee Kuan Yew in his early struggles. They felt annoyed that they had to make way for fresh outsiders who were not even party members.
It became a conflict that was confined within itself.
The sentiment was as bad in the civil service when experienced executives who were without a degree were downgraded or told to go.
The self-renewal, which changed about 25% of the 80-or-so parliamentarians in every election, was to rejuvenate the government by bringing in younger candidates.
The objective has been to ensure that the party gets fresh blood who knows how the young generation feels.
It was not, of course, aimed at ringing out the old and bringing in the young, but clearly it set the pace for many private employers who thought it a good idea.
At any rate, it reduced wage costs. �In some trading houses, employers were sacking 40-plus workers and replacing them with young �cheaper� people,� one union leader complained to me.
But during the past seven or eight years, the trend has worsened as China and other �lower-cost� countries pulled away investors from Singapore. Mostly, manufacturing workers were affected.
The hardest hit were those in the 40-plus age group. As a general perception, economic restructuring has become synonymous with unemployment and middle age with job vulnerability.
For an affluent but high-cost society that is ageing rapidly, this doesn�t augur well for the future.
In the recent years of high unemployment, many middle-class Singaporeans had found it hard to look after their aged parents in addition to their own families.
The number of parents filing for a court order for their non-cooperating children to provide for them is rising.
The Maintenance of Parents Act enables parents to do so. The cases last year numbered 105, compared to 88 in 2003.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has been concentrating most of his time tackling domestic problems like these, including the dilemma of the aged.
With general election possibly months away, it poses political problems for Lee who will face his first test as Prime Minister.
It is generally believed that the older generation, who lives in the Housing Board heartland, provides the staunchest traditional support for the ruling party.
If it feels disenchanted or left out of the economic recovery, it may be reflected in the polls results.
Lee recently announced a package of measures to help older workers, the needy and jobless, including helping them to keep or look for jobs as well as more healthcare aid.
The situation is serious enough for union leaders to call on the government to reserve some jobs for older or unskilled workers.
The government has rejected it as detrimental to Singapore�s competitiveness.
The biggest obstacle is an employers� view that people above 45 are over the hill.
In five years� time, some 53% of Singapore�s workforce will be 40 or older.
20 Dec 2004
Can't Afford to Retire? That Means No Babies !!!
I was reading the article "Can you AFFORD to retire?" in the 18 Dec 2004 issue of the Straits Times and recalled that only just recently the government was renewing efforts to encourage Singaporeans to have more children.
Once again the severe myopia permeating the ranks of Singapore's million dollar cabinet ministers is baffling.
The issue of affordability of retirement and dwindling babies are related. If you cannot afford to retire then its also highly unlikely that you can afford to have babies.
Solve the earlier problem and you would be half way there in getting those much wanted babies. In fact this is nothing new and has been part of the evolutionary process for thousands of years. Many species will delay having off springs during periods of extended famine and draught and one does not need to be paid a million dollars to see that harsh reality.
Yet, contrary to thousands of years of evolutionary progress/precedent, this
government is telling you to have kids even when you cannot save enough to
look after yourself during your retirement years.
Singaporeans by and large are a hardworking, industrious, lot who live within
their means and are unquestioningly obedient to their overlords. In-spite of
deteriorating work conditions many still try hard to save enough for their
But its not that easy when decades of stingy fiscal and monetary policies have
sapped the average person's disposable income and retirement reserves. Only in
Singapore do you have the unholy situation where state reserves actually
blossom to grotesque portions even whilst personal savings dwindle and
personal incomes deteriorate. We end up with the state directly profiteering
from the very citizens it is supposed to look after!
To make matters worse, land prices have been artificially inflated for many
decades resulting in escalating costs of living.
Hang on, lets back track here. Was this not the same government who was
declaring to the world that Singapore has attained Swiss standards of living?
This government has asserted that;
a) Singaporean workers are better paid then their counterparts in the US, UK
b) That Singapore also has very competitive cost of living?
c) And Singaporeans also have one of the highest savings rates in the world?
How much of the above assertions are mere propaganda and how much is actual
fact? If you put a) b) and c) together it implies that the average Singaporean
should not be in the dire straits they are in now.
But the undeniable fact remains that Singapore today is no where near being
the Switzerland of the east. You may refer to the attached powerpoint file for
a full comparison between Singapore and Switzerland. The census figures show
many similiarities between the two maturing economies but the following
figures are glaring;
a) Singapore's unemployment rate of 4.8% is still higher than Switzerland's
b) The Singapore Government's reserves of Foreign Exchange and Gold is approx
USD110.8 bn, much higher then Switzerland's USD69.6 bn.
c) Singapore's physical geographic area is only 692.7 km sq which is only
1.67% of Switzerland's 41,290 km sq
d) Singapore's population is at 4.3 mio as compared to Switzerland's 7.45 mio
e) Taking into consideration (b) and (c) above, Singapore's Military
Expenditure is USD4.47 bn p.a. (4.9% of GDP) as compared with Switzerland's
USD2.5 bn p.a. (1% of GDP).
There are massive indicative signs that confirm the postulate that a very
bloated state reserve is maintained at the direct expense of the personal well
being of private citizens. Military Expenditure is just one glaring area where
the Singapore Government spends more then 500% more to defend a land area less
then 2% the physical size of Switzerland.
We posed these issues on Delphiforums as discussion threads and have
incorporated feedback from various forum participants. More crucial
differences between Singapore and other developed countries was highlighted by
"Unlike Singapore, Switzerland, US and UK have the following;
A) UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS. This is state funded. A Swiss who is unemployed for
the first year can still draw 80% of his original salary from the State in the
1st year. Of cause he has to show he has actively been looking for work;
B) From (A) there is some certainty of income and security. The state actually
looks after the aged and the unemployed. In sillipore its the citizens who
have to financially support the government, its GLCs and their mistakes.
C) There is CPF in Switzerland but the funds are managed in a clear and
transparent manner. There is no such shit where GLCs can dip their hands into
D) The Swiss and US and UK have a less bloated cabinet then Singapore. They do
not have to pay ministers USD1.1 mio a year to spin them propaganda;
E) Switzerland also spends less then 1/2 what Singapore spends (USD2.4bn as
opposed to USD4.2bn) on defence and this is to defend a land area and
population more then 7 times the size of Singapore;
F) Switzerland already have carved a niche in the following established global
industries: a) Private Banking b) Insurance and c) Chemicals/Health care and
d) Precision tooling and watches. What industry has our million dollar
ministers carved? The Biopolis? Pls don't make my toes laugh."
(You may view the full discussion thread at:
Are Singaporeans living with the mistakes of previous attempts by the
government at "social engineering" and playing God?
According to the latest estimates from the Straits Times article, if you
decide to retire at the age of say 60 and have a life expectancy of 80 years,
you would need at least SGD1 to 2 million in cold hard cash. Needless to say
this is beyond the means of most Singaporeans who earn an average mean/median
monthly household income of between SGD3,000 to SGD4,000/-.
That means that most Singaporevereans will face very bleak retirement years
with a substantive reduction in quality of life and standard of living. As one
forumer sums up:
"unless you have cold hard cash of at least SGD1-2mio at retirement, this is
what our twilight years will look like for most of us :
a) Downgrade from private transport to public transport. Imagine at age 60
running for bus or MRT;
b) Downgrade to 2-1 room HDB flat (also affectionately known by the locals as
"Pigeon Holes") assuming this is still affordable in 20-30 years time;
c) No holidays overseas and no clubs;
d) No entertainment. Entertainment is watching grass grow and a once a yr
visit from a PAP ministar.
e) No friends, not mobile, no credit card, no gym etc.
f) Food is bread & water, no restaurants no nothing.
g) And of cause NO KIDS and other long term liabilities we can't afford "
(You may view the full discussion thread at:
Singaporeans will be living hand to mouth in what are supposedly their golden
years. After spending all of their adult lifes working 12 hour work-days, they
will have barely enough to live out their sunset years at subsistence level.
Some may even face the undignified prospect of flipping burgers at Mac
Donald's to make ends meet.
And this is a situation the government is well aware of. Said MP Lily Neo:
"People are living longer, life expectancy is about 80. So if you retire at
62, you still have a long way to maintain yourself. The majority of people
don't have enough savings."
According to Dr Neo; "Medical costs will go up as new technologies and
medicines are developed. As you grow older, you'll have more medical needs
that will add to your expenses."
If this is the case, would lt not be morally and socially irresponsible for a
government to encourage its citizens to assume obligations and
responsibilities (of having children) that are beyond their financial
Why are they doing it? That's because Singapore's only real growth engine is
its population. And the government needs to see a growing mass population to
fuel its economic growth. This is strangely reminiscient of the scene in The
Matrix where humanity is reduced to the plight of a duracell battery.
Below was the sinister scenario potrayed by another forumer:
"Things have changed alot in singapore and not all the changes are positive.
The following is simple logic. We start on the premise (given by Lee Kuan Yew
himself) that Singapore has no natural resources.
The only resource it had 30-40 yrs back was man-power. So the govt could only
sell one thing and one thing only.....manpower to attract foreign investments.
Fast forward 3-4 decades later and little has changed. We still have only
manpower to selll and what's worse is the fact that other countries are fast
catching up in that area.
The only thing the PAP can think of is to keep the price of its only product
cheap. Make this place as attractive as possible for the MNCs but that also
means exploiting the labour market to its fullest. That means squeezing every
last drop of blood from workers (run those duracell batteries dry!!!)
This is a situation the PAP is quite happy with but there is one big kink.
They never foresaw the obvious eventuality that their pro MNC anti-labour
policies has made life so difficult for average workers that it has resulted
in a mass exodus of talent from the island and also a massive drop in birth
rates. In effect they are killing their only scarce resource.
The idiots were so oblivious to this development that 10-15 yrs back they even
had a stop at 2 policy and also the infamous Graduate Mother scheme policy.
The message to the masses; "If you do not have a degree please do not
contanminate the pure stock with inferior genes." Only graduates were fit to
have kids. And to this day this unholy idea has survived as we see the
distinction between SDU and SDS.
I can say with certainty that singaporeans (the intelligent ones) who plan
their future will have worked out the numbers for themselves and they know
they do not have enough to retire comfortably especially if they have kids. So
you will not see a reversal in the plumetting birth rates.
The PAP also realises it so they now look to foreign imports to make up the
shortfall. But who wants to move to a Disneyland with the death penalty where
you work 12 hour days in a sterile pressure cooker society where your every
move is monitored and controlled? Only the desperate cases.
If you had money and talent Singapore would be the last place you would move
to. Sure you may set-up a bucket shop office here to take advantage of the
cheap labour and even work here. But to live here personally, retire and call
this place your home? No Way. That's why most of the mega rich businessmen
still live even in Indonesia, China and even Thailand and of cause
Switzerland. All of these countries have a higher concentration of high
networth people then Singapore (and that includes Indonesia, Thailand and
China, supposedly lagging behind singapore).
So my final point is that there is no future for this island unless there is a
real change of policies (and government)."
Fortunately most levelheaded Singaporeans are able to see beyond the short
term incentives offered by Singapore's ruling party and many have questioned
the feasibility of raising a family on this expensive island in the sun.
Said another long time forumer:
" Singapore's mass media have always afforded us a very enthusiastic picture
of our future, especially via reporting of key messages from our leaders.
Is the picture really that beautiful? Civil servants getting big bonuses! Was
there a hidden agendum somewhere? Does that really assure us of the bright
horizon ahead? I really have my doubts.
Can Singapore really establish itself as a key hub? Even if it succeeds, how
long can that be? Just looking at Thailand and Malaysia, and I get a funny
feeling down my spine. sigh......"
Another forumer was less kind when he wrote:
"million dollar ministers and million dollar permanent secretaries naturally
can't see that "relatedness"' [between affordability of retirement and making
babies] you mentioned.
Why? Because you see in Singapore these policy makers can only understand an
issue in its proper perspective only when they are personally affected. or
afflicted as in the case of illnesses. [How can ministers who earn SGD1.6 mio
a year understand and relate to the plight of a family who has to survive on a
monthly household income of SGD3,000 a month?]
If a system of compensation of paying Ministers currently exist , based upon
benchmarking against the top 5 earners of the community regardless of ""how""
they earn their money( remember rogue trader Chen of CAO was the 4th top
earner in the list) then what can we expect from them? logical thinking? Nah!
And really why produce another generation of media and state socialised
unthinking unanalytical slaves for THEM and their pre-assigned elite status
It looks like for now Singapore's battery producing factories (oops I mean
baby making families) will be closed for the duration and the Matrix (oops I
mean the Singapore Government) will have to look off-shore for other sources
of raw material for the reproduction process. Needless to say these
alternatives are already being explored.
The editor wishes to express her thanks to the participants in Delphiforums
who have contributed substantively by providing feedback and view points for
Non-Members of Delphiforums may enter the discussion forums as "Guests"
(You may view the full discussion thread at:
Attachment: 34k (application/vnd.ms-powerpoint) Singapore Switzerland.ppt