“I will renounce my Singapore citizenship if I still cant find a job soon…”
48-year-old Edmund – looking younger with his jet-black dyed hair and boyish look, was dead serious when he related this shocking statement to me earlier in the week at Raffles City.
I have met close to two hundred jobless PMETs face to face during these past few years managing Transitioing but this is the first time that someone told me emphatically he wanted to renounce his citizenship due to prolonged unemployment.
Each year, more than a thousand Singaporeans would renounce their citizenship as they have found greener pastures abroad. Many have resettled in Australia (40,000), UK (30,000), US (20,000), China (20,000) among others.
I am sure that many who have moved abroad did so because they couldn’t get a proper job here. Many who chose to renounce their citizenship also has an eye on the fattening CPF account which they have built up during the hey days when they were working here.
Many Singaporeans are also unhappy that the withdrawal age has being extended from 63 to 65 years old recently and the government will only provide amonthly allowance to them based on how much they have put into the retirement account.
They wanted to have more say on how they should manage their own CPF retirement money.
As for Edmund, life went very much downhill when he was retrenched a year ago by a local semi-con company based in Indonesia. He was subsequently replaced by a cheaper local Indonesian who probably cost less than one third of his salary.
The company now has a one-third Singaporean workforce with the rest making up of foreigners - with Indonesians and Malaysian forming the bulk of the foreign legion.
He was earning close to $67,000 annually for the seven years that he was working with the company and even found a Indonesian wife while stationed abroad .
He was happy, life was comfortable then and he seldom returned to Singapore even though it was just an hour away by ferry across the straits. He also lost touch with the local employment situation while working abroad and only realised how much has changed when he returned to look for work recently.
Highly educated and armed with a master degree in logistics, there is every reason to believe that life would not be difficult for Edmund.
Now jobless at age 48 years old, he attended only 5-6 interviews over the past one year and realised that age was the main barrier for him getting rehired.
“One local employer even told me that I was the oldest candidate he has interviewed!” Edmund related to me intensely.
Edmund is willing to even to take up a job that pays half of his previous salary – only if there is one employer that is willing to provide him that chance.
As he was also interested in doing training, he applied for a driving instructor job with the driving school though the pay was only slightly above $2000. However, no one bothers to contact him for an interview.
I told him that his high educational qualification could also be a deterrance as interviewers who are department heads may find him a threat especially if they don’t have such high qualification as him.
“Perhaps so,” Edmund whispered softly. “I may need to remove my masters degree from my resume when I am applying for jobs now!”
As his severance pay is finishing soon, Edmund may have no choice but to take the drastic step of renouncing his citizenship so that he can withdraw his massive CPF money to start a small business in Indonesia.
“I have a Indonesian wife and recently the Indonesian government has make it easier for foreigners to apply for citizenship if they marry Indonesian women.”
He also hoped that the government will tighten up the foreign worker influx and brings in true talents and not just anyone who could fill the company’s foreign quota.
As we ended our interview, I found that there could be many Edmunds out there – highly qualified, well experienced but at the wrong end of the age barrier.
If Singaporean employers continue to shun older PMETs from the workforce, many of them will look for opportunities abroad resulting in a serious brain drain soon.
Those who could not move will have to stay on and if the dire situation persists it could turn into a potential social time bomb with adverse consequences.
Men at the age of mid to late 40s are still very productive and more signficantly they still have mortagges to pay and young children to take care of.
If they stay jobless for a prolongd period, all their savings may be emptied out and during acute financial distress, families will be adversely affected with many even ending in divorce.
Transitioning has estimated that 30% of the jobless PMETs faced serious familial issues at home with some even talking of divorcing their spouses due to financial stressors. It is with this sombre statistics that we have started a divorce support site www.steadymarriages.com one and a half year ago.
Moreover, ironically, employers have always complaint that they could not find suitable local applicants when they put up job advertisements - the truth is that there are local jobseekers applying but they are not the younger lot whom employers want to hire.
Transitioning hopes that our local employers will be sympathetic to older workers applying for jobs.
They are willing to work for much reduced salaries and why not give them the opportunity to try it out than flatly rejecting them?
Remember that we are a fast greying population and if too many of our mid-aged workers stay unemployed or underemployed, I am sure that this will have serious social repercussion on our society.
Written by: Gilbert Goh