Covid-19 crisis hits hard for the elderly

Covid-19 crisis hits hard for the elderly

incomes dwindle during pandemic

Elderly people have suffered the most from the massive employment contraction during the economic crisis, although more will be working beyond retirement age, according to an online forum.

People aged 60 and over who are still working made up one-third of the workforce last year and 60 percent of them ran their own micro-businesses without employees, said Chalermpol Jamjan, a lecturer at the Institute for Population and Social Research, Mahidol University.

Many retirees remain dependent on income they earn from being employed. Only after they reach the age of 70 will they rely more, if not entirely, on money from their children or those close to them.

Nonarit Bisonyabut, a researcher at the Thailand Development Research Institute, said the Covid-19 pandemic has wiped out jobs in the hospitality industry and related businesses when border closures forced visitor arrivals to drop to zero compared to 6.6 million from January to March.

Employees in those sectors were either laid off or furloughed. The economy had slumped even before the pandemic struck, when three million people were working 30 hours a week, a shorter amount than normal, as orders fell short of targets.

However, after Covid-19 broke out, the number of people who worked 30 hours per week jumped to five million, 250,000 of whom are retirees.

Worawet Suwanrada, an economics professor at Chulalongkorn University, told the forum via Facebook that there are 12 million elderly people. At least 40 percent of them are employed, around half in the farm sector.

The rest run small businesses including restaurants and retail shops, whose income also sustains their families.

However, that income has dwindled in the face of the pandemic, forcing the elderly to turn to pension funds drawn from the social security scheme or allowances doled out by their children.

He said adult children are themselves struggling financially from the Covid-19 crisis.

Chonticha Asavanirandorn, expert at Chulalongkorn University's College of Population Studies, said many older employees perform better and are more productive than younger workers. They are able to apply their experience to their jobs.

They also show they have endurance and tolerance of demanding, high turnover jobs.

However, the older workers were the first to be furloughed or laid off at the onset of the Covid-19 outbreak. This group of employees finds it hard shifting to new jobs which require skills in information technology, she said.

Montakarn Chimmamee, researcher at the Social Research Institute, Chulalongkorn University, said older and senior employees are most vulnerable to being made redundant and left out of the welfare system.

With a modest educational background and no vocational skills, few have access to finances which allow them to start their own business to sustain their livelihoods after losing jobs in companies or factories.

Ms Montakarn said the government should promote labour skill enhancement programmes and long-term savings for the older workers while expanding welfare and medical coverage for them beyond retirement.

The forum participants agreed the issues affecting older and senior workers must be addressed urgently as the country is moving to a fully-fledged ageing society next year.

However, the forum noted the country has made few preparations with regards to creating a comprehensive policy of hiring senior workers.

Although a measure is being pushed at the policy level to encourage employers to hire more senior workers, not much headway has been made.

This comes despite the government offering a tax rebate for companies employing senior workers. A proposal was now floated to make such employment compulsory.

Phusit Prakongsai, secretary-general of the Foundation of Thai Gerontology Research and Development institute (TGRI), said a vast number of senior workers are still fit and capable enough to work through retirement.

They are strong contributors of economic wealth and prosperity, the secretary-general said, adding they need to be re-skilled to stay productive.

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