Monday, April 27, 2015

Pension Age Raised: Die before You Retire

The life expectancy of Zambians is between 48 and 56 years. So it doesn't make sense to raise retirement age to 65. Importantly, a law should be passed to enable retirees to get their pensions fast and easily.

In November 2014, Acting President Guy L. Scott signed Statutory Instrument No. 63 of 2014 that raised the retirement age from 55 to 65 years, or 35 years of service.
In December 2014, the Minister of Labor and Social Security is quoted by Doreen Nawa of the Zambia Daily Mail as having defended the change in the country’s retirement age as follows:

“We adjusted the retirement age as a way of increasing people’s life span. Information has shown that most people that have retired at 55 have died earlier because of many factors.”

The Minister is also quoted as having said that retirement age in the southern African region and beyond is 60 years.

In March 2015, President Edgar C. Lungu directed that changes be effected through an amendment to Statutory Instrument No.63 of 2014 signed by Acting President Scott to introduce a graduated arrangement designed to provide for the following three retirement options:

(a) Early retirement – 55 years;
(b) Normal retirement – 60 years; and
(c) Late retirement – 65 years.

These changes to the retirement age are unacceptable for a number of reasons. Firstly, the changes needed to be made in sincere consultations with relevant non-governmental stakeholders—including the Zambia Federation of Employers and the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions and its affiliate labor unions—rather than by presidential decree.
Secondly, it is unrealistic to have retirement options that are above our people’s life expectancy that is currently between 48 and 56 years, depending on one’s source of information, which places the country in the 160th position out of 182 countries surveyed by CountryEconomy.Com.

According to the findings of an international health study published online in the Lancet (a medical journal) in May 2010, Zambia had the worst female death rate and the second-worst male death rate in the world.
So, there is no wisdom in mimicking countries whose citizens have higher life spans in setting the retirement age for employees in our country!
Therefore, realistic retirement options for Zambian employees should have been the following:

(a) 45 years old, or 25 years of service – early retirement;
(b) 50 years old, or 30 years of service – normal retirement; and
(c) 55 years old, or 35 years of service – late retirement.

There is also a need for Parliament to enact legislation designed to make retirement benefits payable within 60 or so days (Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays inclusive) from a retiree’s last date of work. Benefits (or any portion thereof) not paid within this period should fetch 5% interest per month.
Delayed payment of retirement benefits has made some retired citizens to re-enter the job market as part-time workers to earn a living while they await the disbursement of their benefits, while others have died before they are paid their benefits.
The high levels of unemployment in the country militate against the increase in the retirement age. There is no doubt that the higher retirement age is going to lead to unprecedented numbers of young job seekers roaming the streets due to inadequate job openings mainly resulting from older citizens’ delayed retirement.

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