Sunday, June 24, 2018
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No Free Lunch

Should mandatory retirement end?

Before 2010, female flight attendants of Philippine Airlines (PAL) had to retire at age 40. Military personnel must leave the service on reaching 56 years of age. So must workers in many banks and financial institutions. Elsewhere, the mandatory retirement age ranges between 60 and 65 years. Supreme Court justices are an exception; they may stay on up to the “older and wiser” age of 70.

Under the Philippine Labor Code, the default mandatory retirement age is at least 60 years but not over 65 years old when no explicit retirement plan, collective bargaining agreement, or contract provision specifies it. The law permits employers and employees to fix it lower, provided that the latter’s retirement benefits under any CBA and other agreements shall not be less than as provided by law.

In an era where chronological age no longer necessarily mirrors physical or mental capacity, should there still be a mandatory retirement age? For certain occupations, the desirability of mandatory retirement is obvious and finds wide support. Airline pilots and surgeons are jobs most of us would rather not see someone “too old” in. This is generally true where safety and human lives are at stake. But for most others, requiring retirement at a certain age may well be argued to amount to age discrimination.

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Among the first occupations to raise an outcry against mandatory retirement is that of airline flight attendants. In the past, PAL reportedly prescribed explicitly that female flight attendants appear “sexy, exuberant, glamorous, and feminine,” which explained the basis for their relatively young retirement age of 40 (this had since been raised). Other Asian and Middle Eastern airlines have had similar policies. An executive from one such airline once got into trouble for describing American competitors’ female flight attendants as “grandmothers,” as he boasted of the young average age of theirs.

Retirement and inactivity is often seen to speed up a person’s aging and fading health. And in our new world of healthier, more capable and more productive septuagenarians and octogenarians, mandatory retirement can be both an economic and public health matter. From the individual’s perspective, it would clearly be better to give the person the choice whether or not to stay on the job well into the senior years, especially if he/she continues to have the physical health and mental capacity to do so. And why not? If the person still has much to contribute to the public welfare, and on the premise that older people are wiser too (from experiencing life’s lessons more), then one can argue that their talents should not be put to waste by forcing them out of the workforce.

From society’s collective point of view, doing away with mandatory retirement can be either a good or a bad thing, depending on the circumstances. Many countries in fact see the abolition of mandatory retirement as a necessary solution to labor shortages, particularly where slower population growth has led to tight labor markets, such as in Japan and some western European countries. But where labor is in surplus, such as still the case in the Philippines, such abolition may worsen the high unemployment problem. In certain contexts such as in academe, letting old professors stay on as regular faculty could impair morale among their younger colleagues, who must wait for the limited professorial slots to be vacated before they could ascend the academic ladder. Creating “professor emeritus” positions for still capable retirees has been the common way of keeping them engaged, for much lower pay, if paid at all.

More generally, a good solution would be a wide-reaching public volunteer program by which productive retirees can be widely tapped to serve communities in need of their expertise, for minimal expense allowances. Government has long had the VIDA (Volunteers for Information and Development Assistance) program on a limited scale, sort of like domestic Peace Corps volunteers. We could massively scale it up to engage retirees nationwide. It would keep them productively occupied, and healthier too, while society would be the better for it—a true win-win for all.

cielito.habito@gmail.com

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TAGS: Cielito F. Habito, Labor Code, mandatory retirement, No Free Lunch
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