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Network News • 2024-02-01

Benefits of an extension of working age for retirees

Author: George Mangion - Senior Partner at PKF Malta
Published on Business Today: 1st February 2024

 

 

In economic terms, it is prudent to observe that a solution to the low fertility rate in Malta (1.08 - lowest in Europe), can be the provision of extra hours of work by senior persons beyond retiring age.  If properly, incentivized they can contribute to mitigate the problems of scarcity of skilled employment.

The impact of providing extra hours of work for senior persons beyond the retiring age on employment levels and social benefits in Malta can be complex and may depend on various factors.  Let's examine some potential economic and social implications.  A common aspiration for workers having toiled for many years, is for them to seek retirement and hang up their boots.  But consider a hypothesis where active retirees still clamour for the buzz of being part of the action at the workplace.  A semi-retired executive can have a packed diary devoid of deadlines, meetings and spreadsheets and flourish as a fan of theatre matinees, art exhibitions and football match attendance.

Hobbies are all well and good for many, but for the extremely driven, they can feel pointless and even slightly embarrassing.  As can be expected, the norm is for many people choosing to use their retirement to spend more time with their adult children and grandchildren.  They may find that being able to pick up their grandchildren from school, join their families on summer vacations and volunteering for their grandchildren’s school events are meaningful ways to spend retirement especially if in the past, they wouldn’t have been able to participate in these activities during a normal workday.

Yet, those who don’t feel totally ready to say goodbye to the workplace just yet, can think up ways to make adjustments that will still allow them to work and accommodate non-work activities that bring them joy.

Conscious of an acute scarcity of skilled and professional workers, Malta has gradually reverted to a policy of higher immigration.  This gold mine was noticed by smart temping agencies who exploited a niche of growing vacancies both from within the EU and more so from third country nationals (the latter come from poor, sometimes desolate countries and are eager to earn a living in an EU country).  This cohort now drive our buses, clean the streets, man most retail outlets, cook meals in hotels and restaurants and are indispensable in most building sites.

Our dependence on such workforce who are paid at a lower hourly rate to that afforded to natives and other EU nationals has been a bone of contention among social observers.  Over a decade, we amassed over a hundred thousand fully state licensed non-EU workers. These have become a way of life for the island. This demographic has reacted stoically to accept a comparatively lower rate of hourly rate.

Economists have discovered that notwithstanding the comparatively low cost of a large pool of workers this has not achieved a universal calming of domestic inflation.  Such financial pressure on mid-income families has led to breadwinners to consider continuing working beyond retiring age.

Studies have been conducted in other countries which show that this phenomenon is quite common and moving into mainstream.

Apart from the need for extra income to boost modest retirement cheques, one finds another altruistic motive to continue working. The idea that retiring may not be clever, especially when life is demanding and promising, can stem from the belief that staying active and engaged in work or other meaningful activities contributes to a more fulfilling and purposeful life.

Many people find a sense of fulfillment and purpose in their work. Continuing to contribute to projects, causes, or professions that align with personal values can provide a strong sense of purpose and accomplishment.  Naturally, the island’s educational facilities for life-long learning is a boon towards equipping retirees to cope with challenges of the digital age. Staying engaged in work allows individuals to continue learning, acquiring new skills, and staying intellectually stimulated.

As a country with almost no natural resources except for its workforce, there should be every inducement from the State to challenge oneself in a work setting. Naturally, social exclusion during retirement, can be combated by maintaining connections with colleagues and the broader professional community.

All this can contribute to a strong social network, supporting overall well-being.  This means a fair manner how some individuals view work as a means of contributing to society, whether through their profession, volunteering, or other forms of community engagement.  It can be deeply rewarding as staying active, both mentally and physically, is often associated with better health outcomes.

But it is not a one size fits all.  Some retirees prefer to enjoy their twilight years with their grandchildren, mostly spending more relaxed time on their hobbies, sport and enjoying the thrills of outdoor life.

Moving on this is a double-edged sword. When considering the option for qualified individuals to continue contributing after reaching retirement age, there are several social and beneficial attributes to take into account - such as the rich transfer of knowledge and skills to younger generations.

It goes without saying, that continued contributions from qualified individuals can lead to increased economic productivity, which benefits the community through job creation and economic growth. One cannot omit to mention the various strata of social laws and other government policies which over the years, have contributed to build a safety net for the well-being of the Maltese population.

Yet, it is not all hunky dory. There is a negative impact should many retirees opt to continue working as in limited cases, it might reduce opportunities for younger individuals to enter the job market.  This could potentially lead to increased competition for jobs, but in a decade of almost full employment, this pain is a negligible and can be short term.  It's important to note that finding the right balance is crucial.

While seniors can make valuable contributions, policymakers need to consider the potential challenges and ensure that Jobsplus (a government institution) which monitors the labour market keeps tabs on problems and complaints posted by workers and tries to mitigate their hardships.  Jobsplus is adequately funded to address issues such as age discrimination, up-skilling and ratcheting up digital competencies.  All these have led to fair employment opportunities.

Additionally, policies at the employment ministry should consider the broader societal and economic context, including the birth rate, female fertility rate, longer living expectations leading to an elastic nature of the demographic structure.

 

Author: George Mangion - Senior Partner at PKF Malta
Published on Business Today: 1st February 2024

 

 

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