Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand are facing challenges to ensure adequate old-age income security and social protection for older persons due to demographic and labour market shifts. While these countries have successfully managed to improve socioeconomic well-being, declines in the number of prime working age adults, ageing populations and technological changes will accelerate the need for participation of older persons in the workforce.
The current labour market outlook for older persons in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand will be challenging due to several emerging trends. The Fourth Industrial Revolution will result in changes in existing jobs and require more complex skills of the workforce. The COVID-19 pandemic has heavily impacted labour markets, resulting in high rates of unemployment. It has had uneven impacts in the labour market across all three countries, with older persons being more vulnerable and affected compared to those of other age groups. The negative impact of environmental and climatic change will also affect the labour market, and in particular sectors like agriculture and tourism, which employ a significant number of workers, especially in Malaysia and Thailand.
In Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, current policies on older persons and digitalization are embedded in national development plans. The countries have crafted policies to realign their workforces with future jobs, with digitalization becoming an increasingly important factor able to enhance economic growth and social welfare. Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand have green agendas, but with different levels of readiness towards climate change. In mitigating this impact on the labour market, several policies have been deployed. Malaysia aims to generate more jobs in renewable energy and green Islamic finance. Singapore aims to be a leader for green finance in Asia, and the globe, and develop new green technologies and sustainability solutions. Policies in Thailand are focused on enhancing agricultural production and making current industries more sustainable.
This paper recommends several strategies to promote active participation of older persons in the labour market, including reducing age discrimination and promoting gender and age-friendly practices in the workplace. Current interventions in expanding upskilling and reskilling programmes for older workers, particularly those with relatively low levels of education and skills are limited, both in size and scope. Widening incentives for employers, in particular towards recruitment of older workers is optimal in incentivizing employers who employ and retrain older workers. Policy adjustments on pensions and contributory systems are needed to ensure all workers, regardless of age, are covered by social protection and social insurance as early as possible, without differentiating between their employment status or nationality. Increasing the retirement age or introducing a re-employment age may encourage older persons to participate longer in the labour market. Enhancing female labour force participation is equally important, with flexible work arrangements and efficient care options to enable women to balance societal expectations or the perception that women need to shoulder disproportionate housework responsibilities. More generous parental leave policies that include paternity leave could also support female labour force participation. Finally, promoting the health of older persons in the workplace is crucial. Policies that promote healthy ageing and improve safety in the workplace by integrating age and gender concerns in workplace risk assessments would encourage better labour force participation of older workers.