Higher retirement age proposed

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 May, 2012, 12:00am


Plans to make workers stay on the job until later in life have brought thousands onto the streets in Europe. Now, a long-delayed report by the government's population policy group is proposing the same for Hong Kong - leaving the fraught issue on the desk of the new government.

The Steering Committee on Population Policy yesterday issued the first government report on population policy in nine years, just one month before Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's government leaves office to make way for Leung Chun-ying's team.

The committee's former head, defeated chief executive candidate and former chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen, had promised to report every two years when the steering committee was created in 2007 as a replacement for the former Taskforce on Population Policy.

Critics questioned why the report, which suggests implementing a higher retirement age as one option to overcome a looming shortage of manpower, had been released so late in the government's term.

The city does not have a statutory retirement age.

'When a policy is put to the public in such a high-profile manner, with timing that is not good, it cannot help the future administration,' said So Ping-chi, honorary chairman of the Senior Government Officers Association. He said civil servants - who retire at the age of 60 - had not been formally consulted about the idea of working later into life.

'The internal views [among civil servants] on some of the suggestions are rather mixed.'

Caroline Mak Sui-king, chairwoman of the Retail Management Association, questioned whether the government would be able to enforce a higher retirement age. 'The calculation of pensions is one thing,' Mak said. 'Do all employees wish to stay that long at work?'

She said there was a paradox between government calls for a better work-life balance for employees and the idea of people working for longer.

And economist Andy Kwan Cheuk-chiu said a later retirement could lead to more youth unemployment.

Former secretary for the civil service Joseph Wong Wing-ping welcomed the idea, saying the retirement age of 55 for members of the disciplined services and 60 for civil servants did not reflect changes in society. But he was equally mystified by the long delay in the report. 'The government owes the public an explanation [on the delay],' said Wong, who teaches at City University.

Chief Secretary Stephen Lam Sui-lung has led the steering committee since taking office when Tang resigned in September. Lam said of the idea of pushing workers to stay in the job longer: 'The government should take the lead to evaluate its pros and cons.' The report had taken so long because of the need to involve many different departments, he added.