Thursday, September 19

If those over 65 is considered ‘deadwood’, what wood is 94?

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I admire the Sarawak secretary of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) Andrew Lo when he had responded to the recent statement by our Prime Minister, who had equated poor productivity and inefficiency to the age of our workers here! Kudos to you Andrew!

The PM had made a rather off the cuff statement publicly that by raising the retirement age to 65, it would result in ‘deadwood’ occupying public office positions thereby denying younger people employment opportunities.

It was indeed an insulting sweeping statement – he probably thought of himself as being 49 instead of 94, as he had just celebrated his birthday recently. Indeed, the Bible tells us in Job 12:12 – “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.” During those days the lifespan was 120 years. Today it’s closer to 85.

Shakespeare himself had also written, “As you are old and reverend, you should be wise.”

The PM had probably forgotten too that the public services spend millions, indeed billions, training and giving refresher courses to new recruits to the public services every year – and rightly so as well. Those who are beyond the normal retiring age of 56 or 60, or whatever is the set limit, would not have to be included in such budgets; although with newer technology and systems coming in, the normal retraining may well be needed.

The wisdom of the ages – experience counts a lot especially these days when staff turnover and job relocations and other working life ups and downs including resignations and termination of contracts are the norm. Unlike the famous Japanese work ethic, no one expects to stay in one job or one company from cradle to grave.

It is my humble opinion if someone older than 60 years of age wishes to continue to work it’s his choice and the only exceptions that should prevent him from doing so is his health, his mental aptitude, and personal capability. No one, not even his spouse or his children, can or should stop him from pursuing his wishes.

The writer Simone de Beauvoir put it rather succinctly, “There is only one solution if old age is not to be an absurd parody of our former life, and that is to go on pursuing ends that give our existence meaning.”

Many of those who retire at the stipulated age had done so reluctantly; some gradually begin to miss the excitement of working life, no matter how mundane or routine it had been; others would over the following months find time to pursue old interests or the luckier ones will find new interests and hobbies to pursue.

I can only speak for my own family members here: my mother who had retired at 56 as an English school teacher, had decided to join the church choir and became very engrossed with church work. At the same time, she also pursued her interests in reading and listening to music. She continued cooking for the family and tended to her garden. Many a time she had gone on holidays with my father and had regularly visited three of her children, who have settled down overseas.

My father, when he had retired from the Agriculture Department as senior head of the Fisheries Department, had also became totally involved with church work at St Faith’s; he became a very active member of the Gideons International and spent his time distributing Bibles and evangelised to many places including hotels, lodging houses, clinics, community centres, and wherever they’d welcome them. He had also continued his interests in gardening and had kept his aquatic fish hobby alive besides having a full social calendar.

But not everyone’s as lucky. Some would prefer to stay in the workforce and either set up their own consultancies or join a friend or family member’s. Others who worked in the public service previously are quickly recruited to join the private sector due to their networking, contacts, and influence. They are the ones who prefer to lead a full life – both at work and at leisure. Their pensions would then be a bonus for round the world trips with their spouses or families. For them life is good.

Andrew Lo had indeed hit the nail on the head when he stated that – “Deadwood can be of any age and must be dealt with as a performance/misconduct issue. Long term policies such as retirement age must be based on facts and economic data, not baseless prejudice and assumptions.” I go one step further; if 65 onwards is considered deadwood by our 94-year-old PM, then a lot of the world leaders today are no longer fit to govern!

On the assumption that extending the retirement age would deny younger people entry into the workforce, this fear is totally unfounded which envisions a static and fixed amount of work available, which is certainly not the case.

In my opinion, the 94-year-old might even unknowingly be influenced by his 26-year-old junior minister! He might even be cognisant of the fact that Malaysia’s new voting age will be reduced to 18 years by the next general elections; and think that by making such statements he would be seen as a youthful thinking liberal politician. In his rush to speak out, he had not realised that he had by saying those words made his own age an issue for the position he currently occupies. After all, waiting in the wings is a much younger politician who’s 22 years his junior, at 72, who can now be also considered ‘deadwood’ by his own reckoning?

I conclude my column this week with this wonderful quote from W Somerset Maugham in summing up his life.

“The complete life, the perfect pattern, includes old age as well as youth and maturity. The beauty of the morning, and the radiance of noon are good, but it would be a very silly person who drew the curtains and turned on the light in order to shut out the tranquillity of the evening. Old age has its pleasures, which, though different, are not less than the pleasures of youth.”

I say Amen to that!

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