A senior executive has again raised an important national issue that deserves serious attention. Toyota Motor Thailand vice-chairman Ninnart Chaithirapinyo told a seminar on Thai labour that it is time to raise the retirement age from its current 60, to 63 or 65. While Mr Ninnart was addressing a specific problem of a labour shortage, he is right. The demographics of Thailand have changed considerably in recent decades, and the law should be changed to recognise this.
Sixty is more than a standard retirement age in Thailand. It is compulsory in government and at many companies. There is a tremendous irony to the fact that this is the legal working age limit for employees of the government, since the laws are made and enforced by the cabinet and parliament, where many members are well above 60. Like all laws, the mandatory retirement age will be tough to change.
But there are many reasons it should be changed. The Toyota official produced arguably the most crass reason of them all _ to provide workers for commercial companies. To be fair, Mr Ninnart has in the recent past often defended his workers, even keeping them on the payroll when assembly lines halted last year during the flood. But he could have chosen his cause and words a little more judiciously, aware that it is hardly the nation’s responsibility to provide Toyota with a workforce.
It has been almost eight years since Her Majesty the Queen, on the occasion of her own 72nd birthday, commented on the wasteful practice of forcing healthy, productive and willing workers out of their employment. She cited actual cases of people who worked productively and usefully well past 60 _ and that included herself.
The average Thai now lives more than 20 years longer than he or she did at the time of Her Majesty’s birth in the middle of the last century. Many or most Thais are as healthy in mind and body at 60 today as their grandparents were at 40. It does harm to the nation to force such people out of their workplaces. Arguably, unemployed citizens over 60 are the most wasteful product of our society.
There are foreseeable problems if the age of retirement is lifted. The most serious is that employees who are lower on the promotion rungs will have to wait longer to get to the top. That will require a different type of reform, where ability and achievement count for more than age and time in a position. This would also be a welcome change, since the idea that one is “entitled” to a position because of his or her age results in the promotion of many incompetent officials over those who have better qualifications.
Mr Ninnart is not the first to raise this problem, but his words should be taken seriously. The annual Seniors Day will be celebrated nationwide in a few weeks. There may be no better way to honour senior citizens than by letting them know they can continue their useful contributions to workplaces and communities.
Seniors Day is traditionally a time for 24-hour platitudes on respect for the elderly. It is hard to think of a more fitting tribute than repealing the law that ends productive contribution to nation and family on such an early and arbitrary date.