Singapore is facing a double whammy when it comes to manpower. Our island state is experiencing a fast ageing workforce and a tight labour market. With Singaporeans expressing their unhappiness for foreign manpower, the next best option for the Labour Movement would be to keep our mature workers happy and healthy so that they can continue working to help ease the labour crunch and at the same time save more for retirement.
We have always known at the back of our mind that we are facing an aging society here in Singapore, and this fact is becoming ever more prevalent in our country. But, what do we do about it? I’ve recently read in the news about a collaboration to help mature workers stay healthy between NTUC’s U Live Department and the Health Promotion Board (HPB). This Union Health Promotion Grant for unions, seems to focus especially on those in sectors with higher proportion of mature workers, to play an active role in improving the health of workers.
The Union Health Promotion Grant, which has a cap of S$300,000 a year, will support unions’ programmes in one of the key health areas: Chronic Disease, Obesity Management, Mental Well-being and Smoking Cessation. This means each union can apply for one grant at any given time to support a programme addressing any of the four health areas. The grant is expected to benefit tens of thousands of workers from target sectors with high proportion of mature workers such as transport, retail, cleaning and security in the first year.
Both National Taxi Association (NTA) and the Building Construction and Timber Industries Employees’ Union (BATU) worked closely with HPB and the two companies to understand the health concerns of these groups of workers, and worked on maximising existing amenities and/or creating new facilities to implement various workplace health efforts.
The Journey At ComfortDelgro
As part of the 10-month “One for One: Check Car, Check Body” Health screening and Intervention Programme that started in June 2014, ComfortDelGro has estimated close to 36,000 drivers who have benefited from the program with 94% of the drivers aged 50 years and above. In Singapore, drivers are able to drive up to 75 years old. Hence it makes perfect business sense for Comfort Delgro to keep their drivers healthy.
While taxi drivers are waiting for their vehicles to be ready, they can go for their health screening and coaching. A health check centre is set up and managed by trained nurses will carry out screening to ascertain the drivers’ Body Mass Indexes (BMI), blood glucose, blood cholesterol and blood pressure levels. Thereafter, drivers are made to undergo a one-to-one health coaching session with the health coach to develop health plans.
Mr Kiong below was having his health check-up done for the first time, and he has been driving close to 9 hours a day for the last 18 years. Let’s put this into perspective, sitting in that confined space would akin to travelling on a plane from Singapore to Australia; sans in-flight entertainment. He also shared that he hardly goes for his own health check-up, which is not entirely surprising as the older generation have a certain apprehension when it comes to getting their health checked.
A Different Tale With Ramky Cleantech
At the Singapore Polytechnic, Ramky Cleantech and the school have partnered for a 9-month customised programme for Ramky Cleantech cleaners working in Singapore Polytechnic. Till date, a total of 160 cleaners have benefited from the initiative, out of which 80% are above 60 years of age.
The programme covers (i) chronic disease management, (ii) physical activity, (iii) ergonomics, (iv) healthy eating and (v) mental wellness. Cleaners who are 60 years old and above could also undergo functional screening to detect age-related functional decline in six domains – namely hearing, vision, mood, continence, physical function and oral health.
Functional decline, if picked up early, can be well managed and not only improve quality of life, but also enhance their work ability, thus enabling our seniors to remain active and independent through their golden years.
NTUC Deputy Secretary-General Heng Chee How said, “One of the Labour Movement’s key priorities is the employability and well-being of workers of all levels and industries. Good health is an important enabler of this outcome. With this grant, NTUC and our affiliates will be able to do more with unionised companies in workplace health initiatives, and to do so in a more industry or even occupation-focused way. Healthier workers make for a more productive, cheerful workforce. This will be win-win for both workers and companies.“
Based on my personal experience with the older folks, many of them are a hardy bunch. They grew up during the development ages of Singapore and take pride in being able to withstand hardship. Most of them have little knowledge on good health practices and do not look after their personal health well. Even when they are sick, they would like to adopt an Ostrich mentality – to endure the pain and hope the ailment would go away.
Bringing health knowledge and body checks into their daily work routine is a fantastic way to introduce health practices in to their lives. Consultants are able to advise them from existing poor lifestyle behaviours such as bad postures and alert when there are signs of functional declines. These will go a long way in ensuring that our mature workers being able to enjoy a clean slate of health and the ability to work till a much older age.
With the availability of the Union Health Promotion Grant, union members should actively encourage their respective unions to look into implementing suitable activities for fellow union members. This will be a good time for union members to encourage non-union members to sign up and reap the benefits too.