The head of the Hong Kong commission tasked with advising the government on policies for the elderly has said the retirement age at publicly funded organisations should be raised as soon as possible or else legislation may be needed to force change. Elderly Commission chairman Dr Lam Ching-choi on Sunday said officials should encourage schools, social welfare groups and the Hospital Authority to lift the age to expand the workforce. Hong Kong is facing a growing manpower shortage with its ageing population. The unemployment rate stands at just 2.8 per cent. It has been projected that by 2036, almost one in three residents will be over 65. But some older Hongkongers have complained of a lack of job opportunities – an issue that received attention last month after the government announced it would raise the age threshold for elderly welfare payments from the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) scheme from 60 to 65. Lam, who is also a member of the Executive Council, a group of policy advisers to Hong Kong’s leader, said officials needed to take the lead on driving change at publicly funded organisations. “There are tens of thousands of people working there and I feel the government has a role to play in encouraging these groups to extend the retirement age as soon as possible,” he said. There is no law governing the issue in Hong Kong but human resources experts have estimated 70 to 80 per cent of private companies set a limit of 60. However, in recent years the government has moved to a mandatory age of 65 for many civil servants, excluding the disciplined services. Lam, a paediatrician by profession, said companies should take a page out of the Hospital Authority’s book by studying its rehiring scheme. “Under this programme, doctors [rehired above the age of 60] can only do clinical work, but no management,” Lam said. These consultants had higher salaries but needed to train and guide young doctors, he added, but many approved because they wanted to see patients instead of attend meetings, and some would even accept lower pay. But he suggested the authority extend the retirement age across the board. The city’s public hospitals are often stretched to breaking point during the winter flu season. This year doctors and nurses have protested about manpower shortages. Hospitals also face a brain drain as doctors leave for the private sector or overseas. In response, the Hospital Authority, which manages all public hospitals, in June 2015 raised the retirement age for new recruits from 60 to 65. Lam said the government could consider using financial incentives such as tax relief to encourage the private sector to employ older staff. Some measures are already in place. Employers who hire jobseekers aged 60 or above and provide on-the-job training can apply for an allowance of up to HK$4,000 a month per employee for a year. Lam said officials could boost this scheme by scrapping the time limit. “If the situation still does not improve much after that, legislation is also an option,” he said. But Neighbourhood and Workers Service Centre lawmaker Leung Yiu-chung questioned whether many workers at publicly funded groups would be interested in staying on beyond 60, if it meant a demotion. There was also not much impetus for private companies to follow suit, he added. Firms employing security guards had not followed the government’s lead on working hours, so why would they do so on the retirement age, Leung asked.