UN Fund For Population Activities (UNFPA) now renamed UN Population Fund, said the elderly or those who are above 60 years of age who may even be referred to as the aged, will outnumber the country’s working population in another 20 years’ time.(See also Ceylon Today Saturday, 7 October)
While the retirement age in the country is 55 years, in the public service, a worker can go up to 60 years on extensions. Sri Lanka’s unemployment rate is 4.1 per cent, according to the latest data, culled up to the first quarter of the year. The working age is defined as those who are above 15 years of age. Census and Statistics Department (CSD) which collects such data, has no upper age limit to define this important economic indicator.
That makes sense. If a man, or a woman, even if she’s 100 years old, but still has the capacity to work, why should that person be deprived of such a right?
Nonetheless, Sri Lanka’s aged or elderly population which was 6.1 per cent as per the 1981 census has 31 years down the line to 2012, when the last population census was held, had more than doubled to 12.4 per cent, numbering some 2.5 million.
CSD Director General (DG) Dr. A.J. Satharasinghe, one of the speakers at the event, going into the micro details of the island’s employment data said 75 per cent of the elderly were economically inactive, while only 43 per cent of that category was employed.
This meant that 57 per cent of the elderly were unemployed.
Delving deeper into the data of the aged, the DG said of the elderly, 61 per cent were those belonging to the 60-69-year-old category whom he referred to as the ‘young old’ or, belonging to the recently retired segment of the population.
Sri Lanka’s labour force participation rate (LFPR) which is at 54.7 per cent according to latest CSD data, in respect of those who are just about to retire, i.e. those who are between 55 and 59 years of age, showed that this segment of the labour force had a higher LFPR of 62.2 per cent over the national average, which, however was nearly halved to 32.9 per cent, when considering the LFPR of those who are 60 years or older.
Satharasinghe speaking further said population censuses are carried out once in a decade, with the next census due in 2021. But considering Sri Lanka’s proneness to disasters, he said the CSD would be conducting pilot censuses once in two years with the first of such censuses to take place next year.
This would enable policymakers to get a clearer picture of the impact such disasters have on the people, vis-à-vis the ‘actual’ numbers affected so that they could take appropriate action, the DG implied.
Complementing this action plan of CSD which will get off the mark next year and considering the fact that 61 per cent of the elderly are the recently retired, i.e. covering those between the ages of 60 and 69, the department should also have on board, segmentalized employment / labour statistics, of those between 60 and 64 and 65 and 69 years of age respectively, similar to the labour slabs related to the ages of the population which the department now has on board, covering intervals of five years,beginning from 15 to 19 years and ‘ending’ from 55 to 59 years, while having a blanket coverage of labour data to those who are 70 years and over.
That will also help policymakers to frame labour-friendly laws covering that segment of the elderly population as well, perhaps leading to the extension of the retirement age from 60 to 70 years (including extensions) or something in between as deemed appropriate.
Such an action may also take the pressure off the trillion rupee Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF), hit by retirement withdrawals. Satharasinghe in his speech said the country should come up with an appropriate policy for the elderly; this may be a start.
The vulnerability of elderly women, of whom only 11 per cent are employed, may also to an extent be addressed, by extending the retirement age. (CT)