Yarde, Chamber head, AFC favour higher retirement age
By Heppilena Ferguson
Stabroek News
January 7, 2007

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A number of trade unions and two of the major political parties believe government should extend the retirement age, which is currently 55 years.

Though they agree that several factors will have to be taken into consideration before such a decision is made, at the same time, they are of the firm opinion that the issue should be revisited.

Labour Minister Manzoor Nadir in an earlier comment to this newspaper had said that he had no intention of advancing any proposal for a possible extension of the mandatory retirement age of 55 years for public service employees.

"Where persons have retired and we might be in short supply we hire persons on special contract, but I am not in favour of advancing such [a] provision," he insisted. The minister had said too that he believed that others must be given an opportunity to grow and move upward.

"If the older persons can still work and we require their services we could have them on the job by using a service contract but generally, I believe that staff renewal is good for any profession or organization," Nadir asserted.

Stabroek News sought the views of persons in various sectors in society on the issue. Alliance for Change (AFC) Member of Parliament Sheila Holder said Guyana would have to work hard to retain lost expertise and the approach to this would have to be different. "I think it is foolhardy for the government not to expand the retirement age and I believe too that making use of retirees by just offering them contract employment does not give them an opportunity to plan their lives in a systematic manner. I believe that the minister should review his position, since this is not in keeping with what occurs in other informed societies," Holder asserted.

However, she acknowledged that such a decision should be given much thought and should be based on what would be beneficial to the sector and goes way beyond assisting retirees.

Holder continued, "This is one way in which we could at least retain institutional memory of persons who are experienced. Maybe the minister is concerned about the younger generation being stifled, but we have to be realistic, since they are the ones getting themselves more and more qualified and more marketable and moving on and eventually out of the country."

With this in mind, Holder said her party believed that sooner or later Guyana would be forced to gauge its policies in this direction or suffer the deleterious effects.

Outgoing President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce Gerry Gouveia shared similar thoughts and as someone who is very active in the development of the private sector and the country's development as a whole, thinks it is ludicrous that people in Guyana are still required to retire at age 55. "Not only are we losing much of our skills but at age 55 the persons in institutions are more matured and the level of their contribution is based on lots of experience and wisdom," Gouveia asserted.

He cited retired Major General Norman Mc Lean, who he said had to retire from the Disciplined Services but was still able to contribute to the overall development of the local private sector. "And at his age he is still able to do so much and still contribute meaningfully and could have done so within the security sector," he continued.

"I believe the 55-year retirement age is a waste of human resources and many developed countries who do not suffer so much from the brain drain have gone the way of extending it. I think Guyana should go this way immediately and this should not be a long debate," Gouveia said.

The main opposition party, PNCR-1G feels that any decision to expand the retirement age would have to be an involved one which examines the various impacting elements. "In fact at the age of 55 many people are at the prime of their contribution to the particular institution they are serving, but a lot of things will have to be taken into consideration before any such decision is taken," General Secretary Oscar Clarke told Stabroek News.

Clarke was not sure whether any scientific survey had been done to determine the level of manpower here in Guyana and what the specific needs were, which he said would be important to any consideration to expand the retirement age of public sector employees.

"One of the things government has been doing is importing labour, but selectively from India, China, and Cuba. Is this going to be the new order of the day or will we extend the retirement age given life expectancy?" he queried.

He said his party was certainly concerned, but it was not something that could be done in an ad-hoc manner.

"It is not a simple matter and may require a detailed study and careful consideration, but it ought to be considered," Clarke said.

General Secretary of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana Kenneth Joseph, said the body had not yet examined the issue, but he gave his view on the matter. He said the federation would support a call for the retirement age to be extended but he believed that at present there was a shortage of jobs and so the job-market scenario must be addressed. He pointed to the influx of persons entering the job market particularly from the University of Guyana and opined that it was a case where the authorities were getting rid of the older ones, who are skilled and could still continue working, to make way for the youths.

"So I think they would have to tackle it from the perspective of creating more jobs, they must do this before there is any consideration of extending the retirement age."But he noted too that many skilled and trained people who had retired and had nothing to do left the country and went to other countries and helped to develop those countries. "So in those cases we lose skills and experience and those very people are offered jobs in other countries and are allowed to work for an additional five or more years," he added.

Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) President Colwyn King believes that any attempt to maintain the current retirement age for public sector employees would only encourage our Caribbean sister states to benefit more from our best trained, qualified and experienced minds.

However, King is convinced too that because of the stress that some teachers have had to contend with over the years, "some of them may not even live to see retirement age." However, he noted that it was a complex situation since an extension in the retirement age could affect Guyana's pension and national insurance acts.

"It is really very complex and to address this all minds will have to come together and examine it not for any individual good but for the good of the country and come up with a possible solution to move Guyana forward," Kind said.

President of the Guyana Public Service Union Patrick Yarde said his union had proposed that the retirement age be increased not only in relation to migration but as it related to the longevity of persons, which he said was relative to the retirement age.

"We have urged before that the retirement age of 55 is no longer relevant and this existed even before I entered the public service and should be increased since most of the retirees are still capable of working and capable of functioning properly and some of them get out there and still get to work," Yarde contended. He said the union had held discussions with the then PNC administration and had been examining the ramifications of such a decision. But after the change of government talks could not resume.

He believes that the current retirement age put unnecessary strain on the pension fund, since people retire and get pensions and sometimes were able to find work in the private sector.

A possible extension of the retirement age for public servants had been brought up in many circles for discussion, particularly in the wake of an extension of the category of skilled persons allowed to travel and work in Caricom countries under the Caricom Single Market, as well as the increased number of Guyanese teachers and nurses migrating.

Since then persons, through letters to this newspaper, have called on political parties to view the issue seriously since it is one of national importance.