Healthy Chinese elderly people are encouraged to work after retirement

By Zhang Dan Source:Global Times Published: 2018/9/18 18:43:39

○ Experts say it is a positive and inevitable development that elderly people will work in China

○ The "Silver Hair Project" in the outskirts of Beijing sets an example by helping 13,200 elderly people find work

○ A smaller young labor force is paying the pensions for the large number of elderly in China, which may result in a pension shortfall

Preparing for the ongoing Beijing Chrysanthemum Festival, an elderly worker gardens in a green house at the Beijing International Flower Port in Shunyi district, Beijing on September 14. Photo: Zhang Dan/GT

At seven o'clock on a sunny morning this month, 68-year-old Tang Guangzhi put on his worn out security uniform and went to work as a security guard captain at the Beijing International Flower Port in a northeastern suburb of Beijing. His swarthy face revealed his long hours in the sun.

"The ongoing Beijing Chrysanthemum Festival requires us to work harder than usual. Because of the light show in the evening, I need to stay at my job until 11 pm, but I feel good to be able to make a contribution in my remaining years," he said.

Tang told the Global Times he had been working at the flower port for 11 years, since retiring from the local village committee of Hongsi village, Shunyi district, Beijing.

"As long as my health condition allows me to work, I will keep on working. After all, what should we do if we sit around and do nothing?" Tang said.

Exploring various ways of living in later life is being widely encouraged as the proportion of elderly people in China grows. For instance, Liaoning Province in Northeast China published a plan in early July calling for a progressive postponement of retirement and effective use of elderly human resources.

Chinese experts said that elderly people have the right to share the bounty of socioeconomic development.

Keep on working

Tang is one of the 13,200 elderly people who joined the so-called "Silver Hair Project" in the district since 2012, according to Wang Liying, chief of the Employment Promotion Department of the Shunyi Human Resources and Social Security Bureau.

Wang said some elderly people continue to work because they want to contribute through participating in social activities, but others work for financial reasons - because of an inadequate pension, many elderly people living in the countryside have to work in their 60s or even 70s.

The average age of retirement in China is 55, one of the earliest in the world. However, according to the China National Committee on Aging, the population of the elderly over 60 years old (China defines elderly people as those over 60) reached 240 million by the end of 2017, accounting for 17.3 percent of the total population. It means that four workers are required to take care of one elderly man or woman.

An aging population may result in the potential risk of a pension shortfall since a smaller young labor force will pay for pensions while an increasing number of elderly people collect it. Moreover, to enjoy life as a senior may require more than a pension for some people. As a result, some elderly people want to earn extra money in their later life.

In fact, relevant authorities have been doing research about extending the retirement age since 2008.

The Xinhua News Agency reported in 2016 that China's former minister for Human Resources and Social Security Yin Weimin has promised to introduce a progressive policy to postpone the retirement age of Chinese citizens at the right time.

An elderly cleaner works at the Beijing International Flower Port in Shunyi district, Beijing on September 14. Photo: Zhang Dan/GT

As a model of helping the aged work after retirement in the capital city, Shunyi's project has provided an alternative in later life for local elderly people. The positions for most elderly people are usually in the service area, such as security guards, cleaners, and landscape maintenance personnel, who are paid from 3,000 yuan ($440) to 4,000 yuan.

"As long as elderly people want to work, the village committee can help them find a job," Tang said.

Even though he works for long hours during the flower festival, and sometimes feels misunderstood by visitors when asking them to move their cars, Tang never has any complaint. He insists that seniors must find something to do, no matter how much they earn.

Compared with the elderly men who drive three-wheeled hauling trikes, he finds his job valuable and satisfactory.

"As long as the leaders recognize my work and my health condition allows me to do so, I will keep on working," Tang said.

Stay at home

When Liaoning issued the document encouraging the elderly people to work or start their own businesses, some voiced opposition.

An op-ed from The Beijing News said in July that the out-of-date knowledge and declining cognitive ability of the elderly make them unsuitable for starting businesses. The article said that many seniors are cheated even if they stay at home. Last but not least, if elderly people have any health problems, for example, straining their backs at work, their children have to take care of them and spend a great amount of money on medical treatment.

Wang acknowledged that some companies do not want to hire elderly employees because they are worried about the health condition of the aged. She said that even though the firms do not need to pay for the social insurance for elderly employees once they retire, they do not want to take the risk of paying a lot of money if the elderly employees have an accident during work.

The desire of the elderly to keep on working is high in Hongsi village.

Zhang Jinsuo, director of the General Affairs Office at the Beijing International Flower Port Investment Development Center, said 40 percent of the employees are elderly people.

The center has created around 80 job positions for the elderly living nearby the port. It is being held up as an example for the city to study.

Wang Yun is a leader of the landscape construction team at the flower port. Originally from East China's Shandong Province, she married into the village in 1988. She felt exceedingly proud of her job responsibilities: planting and taking care of trees, and composting.

She took the example of caring for trees to describe her work attitude. "If you don't treat the trees well, they will not show you green leaves," she said. This is the reason why she works hard every day.

Growing up in a farmer's family, Wang Yun had a dream to go to work and get salary every month when she was young. The 54-year-old woman never thought she could realize her dream at this age.

"When I was a child, I told my mother, 'When I grow up, I hope I can earn money as a worker and let you spend it.' Going to work was a dream for a farmer at that time. Now, my dream has come true," she said.

Talking about the advantages of elderly employees, ­she said they are more responsible than young people.

Tang echoed this idea, noting he always sees young people looking at their mobile phones during work hours. "People at my age have experienced more. Hence, based on my previous working experience, I have better working ability and a stronger sense of responsibility than young employees," he said.

Growing elderly population

Yao Yuan, an expert in aging issues, approves of projects which encourage the elderly to work after retirement.

He said that the programs correspond to the expectation of some elderly people and could also ease the problems brought by the growing elderly population.

Peng Xizhe, director of the Center for Population and Development Policy Studies at Fudan University, called for people to change their ideas when talking about elderly people.

"Elderly people have the right to share the achievements of socioeconomic development," Peng said, noting that going to work no longer automatically means going to an office and staying for eight hours.

Because of changes in technology, many new forms of jobs are created. For example, the elderly could open online stores or work as Uber drivers, Peng said.

Elderly people also have the right to participate in the economy, and companies and society should not discriminate against elderly people.

Peng called for society to use the resources of the aged population, for instance, encouraging them to work as volunteers in communities.

Aging is a natural process that nobody can resist. It is good to see there are some elderly continuing to work, not just for money, but to contribute to society.

Preparing for the ongoing Beijing Chrysanthemum Festival, an elderly worker gardens in a green house at the Beijing International Flower Port in Shunyi district, Beijing on September 14. Photo: Zhang Dan/GT

Newspaper headline: Golden work years

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