Ah Kong & Ah Ma Are Going Back To Work? – The Great Singaporean Work Fest

January 10, 2009


Recently, PM Lee mentioned, here CNA ; Singapore may need to develop new arrangements to help the elderly work as long as they can. He went on to add one such feature may require getting companies to rehire workers aged 62 years for another three years till 65.


Now don’t get me wrong – I am all for the idea of Ah Kong and Ah Mah turning the wheel of life in their golden years; only something tells me it’s not going to be as easy as what the PM makes it out to be.


Firstly it’s not enough just to get corporations to hire seniors by giving them a few tax carrots; that in my view is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Though I am sure the free market mujahideens will disagree with me as they always do. 


The tough part IMHO is finding the sweet spot between age and performance and setting realistic expectations– it’s a mix of finding the right fit and goal setting.


I guess if you really want to know what can go wrong when age and performance isn’t matched properly; then pop down to your nearest golden arches to catch the latest horror story of Ah Kong and Ah Mah impersonating the glorious life of the Duracell bunny.


Trust me, it wouldn’t take you very long to figure out retirees and jobs usually designed by time and motion specialist mix as well checking a gas leak with a box of matches; that’s what happens when seniors are wrongly matched with toxic jobs – they struggle; they flay; the system beats to a pulp and spits them out – it’s depressing.


Yes, I know, I am probably going to get a slew of charming post in my inbox chiding me for pointing the finger at the golden arches; they’re after all so kind and caring to open up placements for retirees aren’t they? Well, that’s precisely my point, they’re not. Infact what they’re doing is condoning the glorious life of the battery chicken. Nothing is more depressing than being served by a Ah Mah dressed up in a baseball cap and sporting pig tails as she rattles off greetings that probably came out from some laminated card; like I said, the fit is all wrong. I am not suggest oldies should only be hired to play Santa Claus or quaint Samsui prototypal Bangla’s in some historical setting. Only I believe, if retirees are to turn the wheel of life meaningfully in their twilight years, there should be more effort to crave out a fit between their vintage and their job role.


The Mcdonalds horror house model offers a snapshots of what can really go wrong when absolutely no ground rules are set before hand and everything is just left to the free market.


My feel is government may need to step in and draw up the rough sketches of the ground rules before this can sensibly be mooted as a workable plan for corporations – it wouldn’t do to leave it to Mr Free Market.


One reason why I believe the plan to get seniors back into the employment bandwagon may backfire is because I know only too well how demanding businesses can be on the human mind, body and spirit (that could explain why I regularly fake so many MC’s and prefer to work at home). Work life is hard enough even for a young man like me. If I recall back to the days of my miserable student days in London, I was booted out KFC, McDonalds and Burger King, all within a span of a month. Why? What was my crime? Well my overseer and his border guard Alsatians couldn’t stand the sight of me standing still and doing absolutely nothing – Clean that Darkness! Move! Pick that up! Reverse. Forward! Turn left and right! Jump thru the hoop! I snapped one day when they told me, I had to put my hand up to go for urination breaks. Another time when I got a job in A&W working the sidewalks as a mascot bear that did the tuba-driven “Ba-Dum, Ba-Dum” jingle – I got booted out one day when a kid complained that he saw the bear in a pub gulping down Stela Artois instead of root beer while pool sharking ( what was I expected to do? Get out from my 40 kilogram polyester fur suit for a 30 min break? I took me that long too get into it!). After that I promptly switched to a sedentary job as a morgue attendant and that put an end to those pesky customer complaints.


Get my drift now? My point is simply this. The constant pressure to push productivity beyond what’s humanly possible, multi-tasking, the insatiable expectation of pesky customers and the pressure to deliver value and to do more, more, can all too easily turn into a living hell.


Yes I am sure, if those free market jihadist had their way, they’ve tell us all, the push for greater productivity hardly seems unreasonable. Only my point is just look at how these productivity goodies are regularly delivered? And ask yourself how does that match up with the vintage capabilities of most retirees?


At the heart of issue, I think the main question boils down to whether we can trust the free market to find that happy work / life balance. Bear in mind, we’re not only talking about fair wages that’s only the tip of the iceberg. As much as we’re still on the page where we are trying to find the ideal fit in placement, capability and setting a realistic expectation for the aged.


I am reminded there are dozens of small, simple hardships that can push the elderly over the edge in today’s working environment; for one everything from work manuals right up to the length and height of the customer service counter is designed more for nubile teenagers and Olympic athletes rather than oldies; no where do we even see the basic provisions to cater for failing body parts; short sightedness; the shakes; imperfect memories; machines that can be operated even if one is drowsy or even the sedentary pace which seniors usually go about their business. All these would have to be augmented. The working environment needs to be first redesigned to take stock of the physical limitations of retirees.


I am not suggesting for one moment we should have someone like Eunice Olsen holding out wheel of fortune font sized alphabets to help train seniors during their induction sessions. Only if we’re not sensitive to the physical limitations of the elders, then what may very well happen is this whole idea of getting the seniors back into the workforce may turn out to be an epic rerun of the glorious life of the battery chicken – instead of deriving personal fulfillment, seniors may very well find themselves locked in horror chamber with no prospects of escape; instead of emancipation, we may very well end up with sinew snapping back-breaking work regimes which makes cotton picking in the south circa Arthur Haley’s ‘Roots’ look like one of Sumiko’s recreational pastimes.


No my feel is more work needs to be done by government to prepare the ground before this whole idea can really take off – for one someone at ministry level needs to get off their fat ass and start designating senior friendly type jobs. I for one have always questioned the wisdom of employing nubile twenty something’s to impersonate a wax works in the National Library; when that same job would be more suitably performed by a senior – as I said, I don’t have much faith in the free market craving out a happy path for our seniors.


Ordinary retirees I reminded need real protection from exploitation like kiddies – no matter how you cut and splice it; they will always be prime cuts for abuse and that’s a bleak fact.


Neither do I believe unions in the Singapore context offer much in the way of protecting them either; if it was the US or EU, then I say, yes that’s adequate, its good to go; but in Singapore we all know unions just ape the form and elide the content. They’re at best perfunctory second fiddles who will always play the corporate tune when its expedient. And here we need to be mindful that the last thing we want to do is to revisit the hideous parody of the Victorian era just when the ignorant were regularly used and abused like rumps by big evil corporations.


I am not for one moment suggesting setting the ground rules is going to be easy; it will not; for one the cost to hire retirees will be higher as special arrangements need to be factored into the workplace, but all these can be offset by creative and imaginative incentives in the form of tax rebates.


It may mean we as customers have to redefine our fastidious expectations towards the whole idea of what service quality means. 

In the way, one buys a bar soap from body shop that looks as if it, it came out from some kiddies handicraft class. But because we know, it’s manufactured by some cottage industry somewhere in Bihar to provide jobs to rehabilitate former sex workers – we are able to effect that all important shift and refocus away from the product to take a broader sweep of the bigger picture: how we may actually be playing a vital role in saving people and planet with our wallets – it’s precisely this new form of consumer philanthropy that will be key to smoothing the path for Ah Mah & Ah Kong to get back into the workforce. I personally don’t believe the onus can be entirely in the lap of  government. They may be able to set the ground rules; but at the end of the day, we the end user will remain the final arbiters of deciding whether this is here to stay or go.


My feel is no matter what the final solution is one thing remains patently certain; no one is going to endorse a work system where the old will be reduced to a mechanized automatons to make ends meet, that’s not how the vast majority of people want our old to be treated.

Retirees have given their best years to build this country from zero to what it is today and they deserve to turn the golden wheel of life in their twilight years with pride, dignity and under their own terms.


That’s not too much to ask, not at all.



[This essay is written by Darkness 2009 & Missy Dotty (The site owner of Just Stuff) – The Brotherhood Press 2009 / due to our annual upgrading on our Ekunaba servers / BP will not be issuing out codex codes to help you navigate in the WWW to find your reads. For further information please get specific details on write up dates from your read club leader – The Brotherhood Press 2009]


Meanwhile this entry was retrieved here http://theonlinecitizen.com/2009/01/govt-accepts-17-of-26-aimss-recommendations/ and it relates to the recent AIMs recommendations.


–> Singaporedaddy on Your comment is awaiting moderation. January 11th, 2009 1.53 pm

Good Afternoon all,

Currently, we don’t have enough information to comment meaningfully. Let me put it this way; it’s really like looking at the brochure of a brand new car for the very first time.

It really tells you nothing unless you happen to be a reincarnation of Nostradamus. And as a buyer, we all know it always pays dividends to keep an open mind abt such things.

However, I am very confident once the idea transitions from the realm of theory to practice; then we will be in a better position to pin down specific strengths, weakness, opportunities and even threats.

We will also be able to model the expected outcome and even simulate the pay outs and penalties with a high level of precision and accuracy.

Trust me all this will be revealed in good time.

We don’t even need them to play ball with us either; we could just as well accomplish this independently by observing, evaluating, benchmarking and drawing a reasonably accurate appraisal from the sidelines.

However, as it is, we are not in a position to comment. My feel is lets just remain calm and patient and not jump to any conclusions for the time being, its still early days.

Do have a productive week ahead.

SD (Internet Liaison officer of the brotherhood)

[This has been brought to you by the FILB]

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