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Carrie Lam

Carrie Lam shows she is out of touch on Hong Kong elderly welfare

  • As a high-ranking civil servant not facing ‘compulsory retirement’, the chief executive should know her story is not typical
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 January, 2019, 5:13pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 January, 2019, 10:55pm

I find Carrie Lam’s recent response to criticism about raising the age requirement for elderly welfare payments by offering her own personal circumstances out of touch, to say the least (“‘I’m over 60 and work 10 hours a day’: Lam defends raising welfare age limit”, January 8).

I will be “compulsorily retired” from the Education Bureau's Native-speaking English Teacher (NET) Scheme later this year at age 60 years and six months, after 11 years in the scheme. I, similar to Ms Lam, consider myself fit and able to continue working into my 60s. Like Ms Lam, I recognise “the improved life expectancy of Hong Kong’s population and the global trend of extending the retirement age to 65”. But, unlike Ms Lam, I will not be able to be employed in a government job.

I was aware of the retirement age when I signed up; that is not the issue. The problem is the inconsistency in the retirement age across the Civil Service, and the Education Bureau in particular, while the measures to change the elderly welfare are across the board.

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In the case of education, most NET teachers will “retire” at 60, while others may be granted “extensions of contracts” until 65. Current local government schoolteachers can retire at 65, other local teachers must retire at 60. Newly employed local teachers can retire at 65. Future newly employed NETs will be able to work until 65. Most civil servants will retire at 60, while some, like Ms Lam, can work longer. It is a mess.

In the case of NETs, a set of criteria that is specific to local teachers and not applicable to NETs (such as promotion chances for current teachers, opportunities for new graduates, and availability of local teachers), is applied to determine retirement age.

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Ms Lam’s comments do not display an complete understanding of a far-ranging issue. Holding up her own personal circumstances as a model for responding to government changes to welfare lacks empathy. To people affected by these changes it would be like someone responding to the housing crisis by saying: “It’s OK, I’ve got one”.

Simple, brutal, across-the-board responses to complex issues are not appropriate. Well-provided-for, high-ranking civil servants who are entitled to work beyond 60 are not the model to be used as an example for coping with government cutbacks in welfare, or inconsistent retirement rules.

The new welfare laws may be a response to modern trends, but the retirement laws remain from a by-gone era.

Dan Murphy, North Point