We are never too old to work

  • The Bowerbird Writes
  • Monday, 13 May 2019

NASIR Ahmad’s father, Ahmad Ismail or better known by his pseudonym Ahmady Asmara, was a legendary journalist and a sasterawan (man of letters). He used to work for publications like Saudara, Warta Ahad, Majlis and Utusan Zaman back in the 50s and 60s. Among his protege was the late Tan Sri Zainuddin Maidin (Zam).

Like his father, Nasir joined the press. In 1973, he started as a repor­­ter with the Utusan Melayu group. Eighteen years later, he joined Berita Harian.

Upon reaching 55, Nasir worked on a contract basis from 2011 to 2017. He has no major financial commitments and all except one of his four children are married.

In December 2017, he was diagnosed with colon cancer. It was devastating news to him and his family. He survived but his life was never the same again.

His close shave with death taught him many valuable lessons. For one, he can’t remain idle. He gets restless not doing anything.

He joined Grab service last August. It was more like an experiment for him initially. He was hooked. He has been driving ever since. In fact, he is one of Grab’s prized drivers, attaining 5-star ratings many times over. He starts around 10 in the morning and finishes around 9 at night, stopping only for prayers and lunch or quick bites.

Nasir is not alone. On May 2, this newspaper highlighted a growing number of Malaysians working well after 60.

For those who have their pension, they can afford to sit back and enjoy what’s left of their life. But things are not easy for others. They have mouths to feed. In most cases, adult children have their own commitments and parents seldom want to bother them over financial matters.

However, it is not easy to join the job market at that age even with experience and the necessary expertise. Nasir was a journalist; driving for Grab was a totally new experience.

As highlighted by this newspaper, based on a report published by the Institute of Labour Market Information and Analysis (Ilma), the supply of workers of Nasir’s age and above currently outstrips the demand for them.

According to the report, by 2030, the number of aged workers in Malaysia would be about 1.2 million but the demand for such workers would be just slightly a third of that.

If you are at Changi Airport, Singapore, most likely the first people you meet after the immigration officers are the ushers to guide you to the taxis. At most food courts, the elderly are employed to clear the trays or clean the floors.

There are certain jobs young people are not interested in. We see less of them here because the foreigners are doing the job for us.

Singapore, understandably, is giving a lot of attention to senior citizens. The republic is seriously looking into what it “needs to do differently in the coming years” as its population ages. In fact, it is considered one of the most urgent challenges for the government today.

The world population is ageing. According to the latest United Nations’ data, the number of those above 60 years globally is expected to more than double by 2050 and triple by 2100.

In 2017, there were 962 million of them, there will be 2.1 billion in 2050 and 3.1 billion in 2100. Shockingly too, according to the data, people aged 60 or above is growing faster than all younger age groups!

This is not just a problem in advanced countries. Most countries in the world have substantial numbers of ageing population. With better healthcare, humans are living longer.

There are loads of other issues pertaining to people of 60 and above. Moreover, living in the 21st century has its challenges.

There are issues about acceptability and competition with the younger generation, and certainly the need for respectability and dignity. But more importantly is coping with the demands at workplaces.

It is the question of how governments are coping with an ageing population.

One way is to make people work longer. We have done that, raising the retirement age to 60. Should we raise that to 65?

It is not a popular policy especially when younger people believe they will be deprived of the chance to climb up the ladder in public service or in the private sector.

The Global Age Watch Index Report shows high-income countries fare better in managing their ageing population. The enabling environment too for ageing people is much better in richer countries.

Like it or not, people of Nasir’s age are transforming society of today and the future. Just like the UN report on ageing says, ageing population is poised to become one of the most dramatic and significant transformations of the 21st century.

Never take Nasir and people his age for granted!

Johan Jaaffar was a journalist, editor and for some years, chairman of a media company, and is passionate about all things literature and the arts. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

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