Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Singapore Prime Minister refuses to assist senior citizens.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Singapore Prime Minister says he will not stop companies from discriminating against senior citizens in employment. According to him, stopping this age discrimination, will cause businesses to move from Singapore hurting it's economy. Therefore it is necessary for old folks according to him, for the sake of of Singapore's prosperity, to continue suffering at the mercy of their employers. They should be prepared, according to him, to willingly suffer sackings and unemployment since after all it is their own fault for being old!

Astonishing, as it may seem, this was in fact his reply to union leader Chua Miang Teo when Teo had requested the Prime Minister for help in doing more to get companies to help older workers, as reported in the Straits Times, March 11, 2007 in an article "Don't Rush to force firms to hire older workers".

I have never heard such a cruel, crass, uncaring and heartless position taken by any leader of any country. Leaders are required to take care of their people, especially those most needy of assistance like children, older people, persons with disabilities and minorities. That is why in civilized countries, you have all sorts of legislation such as anti-discrimination laws and social welfare for the needy. All civilised countries have laws against age discrimination. As long as the applicant is capable of carrying out that particular job, he cannot not be discriminated on basis of age, race or gender. It would only be appropriate to deny the job where the job duties require certain qualities such as being strong for heavy lifting. Otherwise, where no special qualities are needed, any qualified applicant able and willing to do the job, regardless of age, should be considered. That is what civilized countries do.

Help for old people in Singapore is all the more needed especially since Singapore refuses to provide any meaningful welfare assistance to the needy. Therefore an older person unable to get help from his children and without savings is left at old age to live in abject poverty. This is not the way to treat older folks who were the very ones responsible in making Singapore what it is today. To abandon them at their time of need is callous disregard and indifference to a most deserving part of the population. These are people who are the weakest among the weak unable to protect themselves. What sort of Asian values is the Prime Minister trying to show in this cruelty to the old ?

And the reason he refuses to help old people keep their jobs, he says, is because this may cause the employers to leave Singapore. I cannot imagine a more illogical and inhuman argument than this. The primary responsibility of the government is towards their people first before anything else. And if there is a risk, which may or may not be real, that companies will pack up and leave if older workers are protected, then we must first wait and see. But for the moment the immediate action should be to protect his people. Not according to the Prime Minister's thinking it appears. It doesn't' matter to him, it appears, that 10,000 old people have to live without proper 3 meals a day and basic necessities, if there is the remotest probability that companies might close and leave Singapore.

Let me tell the Prime Minister what he should do if it wants anyone to believe that it is a first world country that his father the Minister Mentor who gave him the job in the first place, claims. First world countries have laws against racial discrimination. They also have minimum wage laws and they have laws preventing discrimination against older workers in hiring. And by the way, they also have free and independent trade unions who are able to negotiate a fair and just wage for their members. Also first world countries protect their own workers against unregulated importation of cheap foreign labor in an attempt to suppress wages, thereby hurting the living standards of everyone. And by the way, first world countries also have an independent press and a free and independent judiciary, where using the courts to silence dissent is not an accepted practice. And finally, in first world countries, the rulers are responsible for their actions to their electorate, and they do not go around making such inane remarks, and show cruelty and inhumanity to their old, that the Prime Minister of Singapore does.

It is no coincidence that one reads in the media that a large proportion of suicides in Singapore, which has one of the highest rates in the world, are old people. Should not the Prime Minister ask himself whether his cruelty towards them may be one reason why they decide to take their own lives in hopelessness.

Singapore does not have a law against age discrimination. They have a law against racial discrimination but it is openly ignored and Malays and Indians cannot find work. And if they try to challenge this injustice against them in the courts, they will lose, their cases thrown out and they will be persecuted. There is no minimum wage law. Employer can pay anything he wants and the employee can take it or leave it. And I can go on and on.

The readers of this article should write to the Prime Minister to ask him to remember who voted for him and put him in office, and not strut around like a prize rooster and stop beating up on his own old folks. Old people, who are outraged by the Prime Minister's callous indifference to their plight should prepare placards, with the words "Stop this cruelty to the Old", print leaflets explaining their plight, come down from their flats on to the Istana and stand in peaceful protest. That is what I will do.

Gopalan Nair
39737 Paseo Padre Parkway, Suite A1
Fremont, CA 94538, USA
Tel: 510 657 6107
Fax: 510 657 6914

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