China’s state media has raised the tone of its drive to encourage more retirees to re-join the workforce by calling for investment in vocational training and improved regulations for elderly employment, as the country struggles with a shrinking and ageing population.
The state-run Economic Daily on Monday called on authorities to encourage more people aged over 60 to work again, as “the re-employment of the elderly has become an urgent and realistic problem to be solved”.
It echoed the sentiments of the People’s Daily last week, which called China’s 137 million healthy and relatively young senior citizens a “new dividend to be developed”.
“As our population ages, many sectors require the elderly to continue to play a role and they also have the desire to continue working ... by promoting a positive view towards ageing and improving society’s awareness of the ageing population, we can create a positive atmosphere for the re-employment of the elderly,” Zhao Biqian, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Labour and Social Security, told the Economic Daily.
Zhao pointed to countries with ageing populations, like Japan and France, which established universities for senior citizens, offered incentives to companies hiring people over the age of 70 and have community services to help elderly people find jobs.
China’s mandatory retirement age for men is 60, 55 for female office workers and 50 for female blue-collar workers, while the country’s average life expectancy is 77.93.
As it is much lower than developed countries, Beijing has considered postponing the retirement age, but details have not been finalised.
At the end of 2022, China had just over 280 million people aged over 60, accounting for 19.8 per cent of the population.
However, only 8.8 per cent of the total workforce in China is aged over 60.
Zhang Chenggang, the director of the Research Centre for China’s New Employment Patterns at the Capital University of Economics and Business, told the leading economic newspaper that the current system for re-employing retired elderly does not sufficiently protect their rights.
“When hiring elderly over 60 years old, employers only need to pay remuneration and need not contribute to their social security fund,” said Zhang.
“The current laws do not protect the re-employed elderly. In the event of labour disputes or work-related accidents, they may not be covered by labour laws as they have exceeded the statutory retirement age.”
Zhang called on the government to implement policies against age discrimination to protect the rights of elderly workers.
Companies should also cater to the needs of senior workers, who prefer flexible working hours and cannot undertake jobs that require too much physical strength or have a high risk of work-related injuries.
China’s working-age population - those between 16 and 59 years old - dropped by more than 26 million from 2012 to 2019, putting pressure on a shrinking workforce to pay the pensions of a growing number of retirees.
The figure stood at 875.56 million at the end of 2022, representing 62 per cent of the population, but this was down from 62.5 per cent a year earlier.
Yin Deting, vice-president of the Beijing Population Association, also told the economic newspaper that most elderly people work to supplement their living expenses, to remain flexibly employed or to develop skills after retirement.
“However, in the face of increasingly fierce market competition and ever-changing occupational requirements, many elderly who are willing to participate in the workforce often face problems such as high barriers to entry, narrow job-seeking channels, insufficient competitiveness, and mismatching market demand,” said Yin.
“Their jobs are often limited to catering, cleaning, security, nursing and other service industries.”
Vocational institutions for the elderly should prioritise training to use technology to bridge the digital divide, and provide better job-matching services, added Yin.