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Hong Kong’s silver-haired job market yet to open up

Dong Si-choi, 67, turns on the radio when he arrives at work. Then, he takes out trays of dough from the freezer, and makes small cuts on each piece. Next, sausages are placed on the dough and sauces are squeezed on top. Within a minute, trays of typical Hong Kong style sausage buns are ready for the oven.

Every move is precise, speedy and smooth.

Having worked in small cafes and big companies, Dong has been a baker for more than 40 years. In the old days, he used to start work at midnight to prepare the dough. But with advancements in technology and bread-making, the dough nowadays is prepared by machines and stored in freezers, so that Dong can go to work at 5:30 am instead.

Even though he is past the retirement age, Dong's baking career has not yet come to an end.

“It’s all for a living,” he said. “When I see my children grow up day by day, I’m happy.”

Hong Kong’s ageing population has doubled in three decades, according to the Census and Statistics Department. The proportion of elderly people aged 65 and above exceeded 20% in 2021, meaning one in five people in the city is elderly. In the first quarter of 2023, 13.8% of elderly people were in the labour force.

Maggie Chan Chiu-mui, a project officer at the Hong Kong Jockey Club Community Project Grant: Elder-Friendly Employment Practice organised by the Hong Kong Society for Aged, said the most significant drive for elderly people to work is their basic financial needs.

“Most elderly people you see working on the streets are doing it only to survive, be it cleaners, security guards, or even cardboard scavengers,” she said.

More than half of the working elderly are employed in low-end physical jobs with an average income of only two-thirds of Hong Kong’s average, according to the Society for Community Organization.

Chan Wing-kit, in his 60s, has been working round-the-clock as a minibus regulator for more than 20 years.

“I have a lot of duties, for example directing the minibuses, arranging shifts, replying phone messages… I can’t tell you all of it, but basically I need to do everything,” he said.

“Anyone who has money in his pocket would not be working like this.”

Hong Kong’s statutory minimum wage was raised from HK$37.50 in 2019 to HK$40 last month.

Chan said he is currently receiving a monthly salary of around HK$10,000. The longer hours he works, the more he gets paid.

“I think the company will raise my salary a bit after the minimum wage adjustment, but do you think that a few hundred dollars extra help? Does it make any difference?” he said.

Other than economic factors, Maggie Chan said some seniors join the labour force for spiritual and health reasons.

“Some of these elderly people wish to pursue higher personal values or spiritual sustenance because they are tired of the boredom in retirement life, so they go back to work to connect with the society and boost their self-confidence by contributing and lessen the burden on the society,” said Chan.

She added that some elderly people participate in the workforce in order to improve their physical wellness, for example, as a way to prevent cognitive impairment.

Wong Tai-fai, a part-time cleaner in his 70s, has been working for five years. He said it is not for the money but for a more active lifestyle.

“For old people, if they get a job, they can work with colleagues and chat with them, then they will feel happier,” he added.

Although Wong speaks fluent English, he said there are not many job choices for seniors, even though he used to be an office worker.

“Most employers do not want to buy insurance for old men like me, so they are reluctant to hire elderly people,” he said.

Maggie Chan said age discrimination is severe in Hong Kong because many employers have stereotypes toward the silver-haired.

“People tend to believe that elderly people have lower education backgrounds, but they have neglected the fact that many seniors nowadays are retired from professional positions, such as accountants and engineers, and some of our organisation's elderly members are retired senior government officials and nurses,” she said.

Chan added Hong Kong has yet to open up the silver-haired market and provide more middle and higher positions for the retired, resulting in mismatches of human resources.

“Feedbacks from our member companies often praise their aged employees for being more experienced, patient and devoted to the job, so that they save administration costs and turnover rate for the companies, as well as a better reputation for fulfilling corporate social responsibility,” said Chan.

The Employment Programme for the Elderly and Middle-aged (EPEM) under the Labour Department promotes and supports seniors who wish to join the workforce in 2020, for example, by providing a monthly allowance to employers who hire workers aged 60 or above.

“When I work again, I feel happier and stronger,” said Wong.

《The Young Reporter》

The Young Reporter (TYR) started as a newspaper in 1969. Today, it is published across multiple media platforms and updated constantly to bring the latest news and analyses to its readers.


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