Thu | Sep 21, 2017

Editorial | Retirement at 70 up for discussion

Published:Tuesday | April 18, 2017 | 4:00 AM

We celebrate with the community of Duanvale, Trelawny, Violet Brown's good fortune in becoming the world's oldest living individual, having inherited that title upon Saturday's passing of Italian Emma Morano, who was born in 1899.

That Ms Brown, who is 117, has lived across three centuries is indeed a special milestone, but it is perhaps an indicator of a trajectory of increased life expectancy for both sexes - locally and globally. There is a mix of factors that have contributed to this trend, among them greater access to health care and better nutrition.

Though very few Jamaicans will live to see 117 years of age, Ms Brown's longevity serves as a strong reminder of the gravity of the country's pension crisis. Pensions represent a growing paunch on a bloated government. What has complicated this problem is the inequitable system that has persisted, where thousands of government workers have drawn cheques despite having never contributed a dollar to those funds. The upshot: collapse would be inevitable.

Having recently realigned the pension model for retirement to end at 65 years of age, instead of 60 as previously obtained, the Government should already be preparing Jamaicans for the prospect of adjusting upwards the retirement age to 70. This would not be a matter for urgent implementation, but if the Holness administration is visionary, it must acknowledge that longevity standards could make it necessary for older people to work longer.

The concept of a septuagenarian or octogenarian as a stereotypically weak, ailing and emaciated figure is becoming less prevalent with greater sensitisation of the Jamaican population on health and wellness. Length of years does not necessarily blunt one's intellectual capacity. The chief justice, Zaila McCalla, is 69. R. Danny Williams, the insurance mogul, is 83 and up to recently was chairman of Sagicor and is still active in business and philanthropy. Legal wizard Frank Phipps is still razor sharp. Manpower & Maintenance magnate Audrey Hinchcliffe is 77. Restaurateur Thalia Lyn is a sprightly 71.

 

LET'S TALK LONGER WORK LIFE

 

These and scores more high-profile Jamaicans who have surpassed the general retirement age of 65 are productive and highly influential leaders in society. Hundreds, and perhaps thousands, more ordinary Jamaicans manage medium-size to large businesses, mom-and-pop operations, or provide goods and services at small shops or roadside stalls. Sixty-five is very much a spring chicken in modern society.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has said that his ambition is not to be popular, but to do what is in the best interests of Jamaica and Jamaicans. He has made some political moves that confirm this. On the matter of retirement, he should seek to set the stage for preparatory talks with trade union leaders and other stakeholders about the evolutionary reality of a modern state and the dynamic job market.

We believe the substantial crop of 70- and 80-year-olds, and those hovering near those marks, in the House of Representatives, on both sides of the aisle, would offer bipartisan support for such legislation. Older people might welcome such a change as that paradigm shift would have the added benefit of protecting them from being chucked from the workforce because of ageist discrimination.

The Government could also consider making it optional for workers to contribute a maximum of 10 per cent, as opposed to the five per cent that will be obligatory by 2019 for all public-sector employees, of their income to their pensions, an amenity already available to many workers in the private sector.