Old and working | Sunday Observer

Old and working

30 October, 2022

In no country should pensioners get back to work. But increasingly older persons who are unable to afford high-inflation and the repercussions from the global economic slump are joining the workforce temporarily in some industrialized economies, and reportedly in our own country.

Pensioners are not given many concessions according to the new tax regime and cannot claim employment of staff at home for tax relief purposes and so on.

Why should this be, and what could be done to make sure that the need to bolster the exchequer with new streams of revenue do not impinge on the rights of pensioners, who are as it is having difficulties making ends meet due to the recent economic meltdown?

Whether there is work out there for pensioners to do is another question altogether. Many young members of the labour-force are having a hard time of it keeping their jobs, with garment-workers for instance being retrenched at an alarming rate.

There ought to be an inflation cushion for older people at least, but there is none as the government is cash-strapped as well, and can’t afford any relief measures.

Would pensioners that cannot afford a decent standard of living have to rely on what is doled out in the soup kitchens? But soup kitchens have folded-up as well, because there is a feeling that the economy is gradually limping back.

The Government meanwhile is in a race to get the situation as close as back to normal as it can get, but there is always the apprehension that there is too much to do and not many ways in which to do it.

It is a good time to test the theory that racist impulses are in check when the country is going through a crisis and existential issues are facing people from all walks of life, and all racial backgrounds.


This is even as there is increasing right-wing extremism engulfing some parts of the globe, such as Italy for instance where a far-right party has formed a government along with a coalition of allies. It’s not as if Italy and so on are shielded from the economic fallout of the global post-Covid economic crunch.

But these are countries that have been spared agonies of the type Sri Lanka has had to face, with our country coming to a virtual standstill due to economic pressures resulting from a meltdown of the likes we have never seen before.

In these circumstances all races here in this nation united and buried differences and put up common resistance to what was happening. The older people such as pensioners — it had to be recalled — joined the young, and everybody else from all ethnic backgrounds, in making protests count.

Today those pensioners are facing hardships that are unprecedented, as are the young people, and though the young and the old resisted together, it is unconscionable that the pensioners may have to rejoin the workforce.

A country ought to be able to look after its older folk and keep them from rejoining the workforce for several reasons, and one of them is that the young find it difficult to find work too.

The pensioners today are stretching their meagre earnings to capacity. Those who have invested their monies in fixed deposits with state and other banks have the slight advantage of better interest rates today, but even so that’s not solving their problems, and besides, there is no likelihood that interest rates would last at the current numbers forever.

When they come down maybe years from now, the non-public servants and others who depend on investments of their EPF funds for income, would be having to contend with costs that are astronomical, and monthly-incomes that are nowhere near commensurate.

It’s not a growing economy, at least not a growing economy with growth at a reasonable gallop, for obvious reasons. We are a recovering economy, and the gradual trot back to normal would in most estimations take years. Under these circumstances growth is impeded, and jobs would be scarce.

Temporary work that’s available would have enormous demand among the younger demographics who are resorting to gig work — such as Uber deliveries — to get by, or to eke out an extra income that would keep their home fires burning.

Such gig work and temporary work is for the most part not available to the older demographics due to their gruelling nature, and so, if pensioners are back to work, where can they find the work in the first place?

Not in many places, which is why it’s vital to keep the taxes from touching the pensioners, but this seems not to have happened at least to the levels that are desirable.

Can the pensioners at least be given transport season-tickets that would enable them to travel free, or at a subsidised cost in trains and government owned buses, if not private buses? Such facilities would be a great boon to older people, but have never been thought of by our policymakers who are in any event not casting an eye these days on the problems of pensioners, because they have bigger problems to deal with.

But yet a society that does not look after it’s old and infirm and it’s former active-workforce is doomed. In countries in Europe the older pensioners are able to find work to some extent in older people’s homes, as care work is not the type of jobs the youth seem to be interested in.

That situation does not obtain here, because those such as ours are not reasonably salvaged economies after Covid, to say the very least.

The younger people, especially females seek work in elders’ homes, and there are no slots in these institutions for cash-short pensioners to fill.


All this is even as politicians who are past retirement age sometimes galore in parliament, which incidentally wants to make pensioners think why those who make policies that are not always kind to the them, still get the chance to ‘work’ as MPs and earn past retirement age, while they have to rely on their pensions, or their meager earnings from fixed deposits and other investments that may be volatile and are dangerous.

It’s supposed that regimes would be more interested in pensioners when it comes to voting time because the considerable older demographic is extremely valuable at the ballot box to politicians who seek to stave off job losses of their own.

But, giving pensioners a thought at election time only, may not be a strategy that will work, at least this time around. Pensioners would remember that in the worst of times they were left to their own devices — and therefore if nothing is done about their circumstances soon, it would be too late to change things when the votes are being canvassed for.


A survey is necessary as to what percentage of pensioners have been in fact seeking to rejoin the workforce in some capacity, and even though the government is cash-strapped for almost everything, an exception has to be made when it comes to pensioners, and they should come in for some relief. However, a government has to think of those existing below the poverty line and others who are eligible for benefits.

Are their benefits to be slashed? Probably not, however severe the circumstances may be. But, are those benefits to be increased? Probably not too, because the State simply would not be able to afford that.

It means the Government would have to get the economy humming very fast if some of the demographics such as of older folk for instance are to be saved from penury, or at least near penury.

But that type of galloping recovery is easier said that accomplished. But yet, there is no choice. We cannot expect pensioners to rejoin the workforce, and for jobs meant for the young to be taken. Those recipes are for disaster. The economy has to turn around fast, and there is absolutely no choice in the matter.