The Hong Kong population has passed a critical demographic tipping point and is ageing rapidly . Though the trend has been apparent since 1991, the HK Government as usual is ill- prepared and slow to react . According to the Census and Statistics Department, the proportion of older persons aged 65 and over in the population is projected to increase from an estimated 13% in 2009 to 28 percent in 2039. Likewise, our life expectancy will increase to 83.7 years for men and 90.1 for women by 2039, compared with 79.8 years for men and 86.1 years for women in 2009. At the same time, the ratio of our elderly dependents to the working population will nearly triple from 171 per 1,000 persons of working age last year to 454 in 2039.
HK's low mandatory retirement age ( Civil servants retire at 60 and semi-public and non-government organisations follow suit ) in the face of an aging population is expected to have a negative impact on HK's economy, labour force as well as the community . The Panel on Public Service reported in April 2012 that the civil servants in the 40-59 age group represents about 2/3 of the total workforce in 2009-2010 , consequently the number of retirees would double at around 6,800 in the 5-year period ending 2019-2020 compared with the 5-year period ending 2009-2010 . Alarm bells also rang over the mass retirement of experienced doctors born in the baby-boomers years from public health service in the coming 10 years, with dire consequences to the standard of medical care .Given that the age profile of the civil servants mirrors that of the HK working population, the same desperate scenario is expected to play out in all other professions .
Human resources are the only natural resources HK has. A shrinking work force relative to overall population inevitably leads to a slowdown in HK's economic development, ending up in long-term stagnation and decreased competitiveness, not to mention less tax-payers means reduced government income tax revenue . Dr Jean Woo, professor of medicine and head of the division of Geriatrics at the Chinese University, advices the best way to sustain economic growth in the existing circumstances is to "mobilise all available labour resources"."Older people represent enormous potential for the economy and society," Woo says.
From a society's point of view, early retirement is an extraordinary waste of expertise. HK people are educated at great expense to the society, it is just plain bad policy to make people who are highly educated and experienced to stop working when they still have much to offer , and to turn from being tax-payers to be supported by tax-payers simply because of an arbitarily set benchmark of 60 for retirement . In short our society is planning for the average person to spend 20 or more years being economically inactive, to become dependent on social security assistance which leads to escalating health and welfare services expenditure.
Over the years HK has changed from labour-intensive to a knowledge-based economy composed of a highly skilled workforce . With a longer life expectancy, people at the age of 60 are generally still physically, mentally and intellectually fit, and as most jobs in a knowledge economy do not entail manual labour, most people in HK are in fact capable of working well beyond the age of 60 . Surveys ( including the one done by CUSA ,May 2011) have shown HK people generally prefer to work for longer time in order to save more, rather than becoming overly-dependent on society, and strongly
believe that the government should mandatory increase the retirement age . This is echoed by Christine Loh Kung-wai, the chief executive of Civic Exchange think- tank and a member of the Committee on Social Development and Quality of Life, who urged the government to "get people to switch their mindset" and develop a "culture of retaining older workers"
Extending the retirement age is an international trend : the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Japan and Singapore have all adopted various forms of flexible retirement schemes to utilize the human capital of their elderly workforce. HSBC global Forum on Aging and Retirement says : aging population must be seen as an opportunity rather than a threat because of the fact that age -diverse workforces are good for business , They found " a store staffed with older people achieved an 18% increase in profit, 39% reduction in absenteeism and 59% less product loss ." In the United States, for example, a study found that postponing retirement of the baby boomers will generate $12.9 trillion increase in GDP by 2025. Another study in Canada estimated that if the effective retirement age were increased from its 2001 level (61.2) to 65, real GDP per capita could be 12 percent higher in the long run.
The concern of financial implications by the extension of retirement age to 65 is easily dealt with by performance-related pay, and the impart on job opportunities and promotion prospect of young people is fortunately not a problem in HK because of the low birth rate, not to mention as Asia- Pacific will be the centre of economic growth with India and China the leading economies in the coming 29 years ; there will be ample opportunities for all。
How the higher institutions in HK react to this social economic crisis reflects the level of progressive thinking and social consciousness of the respective senior management . City University, Lingnan University and the University of Science and Technology already have a retirement age of 65 . Professors and Staff Associations at the University of Hong Kong, Chinese University, Polytechnic University and Baptist University have repeatedly called for their universities to end the "ageist policy"of forced retirement at 60 and to follow the lead of three other universities, " but it is like talking to a brick wall"( direct quote : South China Morning Post, May23, 2011 )
What is certain is HK cannot afford to procrastinate over this pressing issue . Our future is at stake .
( this article was published in the CUSA Newsletter vol 22, July 2012 )