Thailand urged to 'grow old gracefully'

Thailand urged to 'grow old gracefully'

plans needed now to resolve issue of ageing population

It was time that Thailand got serious about ways to handle its ageing population as a significant statistical milestone will be reached in just five years, a seminar featuring Japanese experts was told yesterday.

At the seminar in Bangkok on employment of the elderly, the experts and Japan's ambassador to Thailand, Shiro Sadoshima, said Japan would do everything to help Thailand deal with its ageing society.

Mr Sadoshima said Bangkok is being tested on how to deal with retirees and their pensions.

The Labour Ministry revealed at the seminar that Thailand entered what was considered a "greying society" in 2005, adding full development would be reached in 2021 in which the proportion of old people in Thailand's 64.8 million population would rise to 14.5%. It now stands at about 10% of the population.

The figures on the ageing population are very clear, Mr Sadoshima said, so it is time to adjust and make preparations. The issue of employment will have a clear effect on the country's labour force, he added.

Japanese guest speakers, including an expert on the employment of the elderly, spoke about their country's decades-long experience in dealing with changes in its population structure.

Mr Sadoshima said Japan entered the ageing society in 1970, but it took 24 years to attain full development in which people aged more than 65 made up 14% of the population.

There were many consequences and concerns, he said, and that meant new challenges had to be overcome as the increase in retirees caused a dip in the labour force and more health care.

Yoshihiro Yamashita, deputy director of Employment Measures for the Elderly Division under the Employment Security Bureau, said Tokyo launched new employment policies to deal with the changes. One was to adjust the retirement age by having people work until the age of 65.

That was not an easy task, Mr Yamashita recalled. It took the Japanese government 20 years to encourage old people to accept "continuing employment".

A state-run job seeking service named "Hello Work" helps to prepare workers for jobs after their retirement, he said.

Today, the average age for Japanese elderly still in the workforce is 71.8 years.

However, not all elderly want to work. Mr Yamashita said 17.7% decided to opt out, but that mean more than 80% were still actively employed.

Similar attitudes were found in a survey by Thailand Development Research Institute's Sarawut Phathunphong, who said many employers and workers did not support an extension of the retirement age. The employers want to save on Social Security Fund contributions, while the employees said they needed a rest.

Suprani Chanthamat of the Fiscal Policy Office said one solution was to have workers and companies pay into the National Pension Fund, which would serve as long-term savings for retirement.

Ms Suprani said the fund was expected to start in 2018.

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