28 Oct 2011

Many workers physically exhausted at 65 - CTU

11:47 am on 28 October 2011

The Council of Trade Unions says workers will find the Labour Party's policy of lifting the retirement age to 67 a bit tough, as many are physically exhausted at 65.

Under the policy announced on Thursday, the age of entitlement would rise gradually, starting in 2020 and hitting age 67 by 2033, affecting more than 2 million people of working age.

A transitional payment at the same rate as superannuation would be available to people who could not continue to work past 65.

CTU economist Peter Conway told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme on Friday that a long phase-in period, consultation and a transitional phase with a benefit at the same level as supperannuation may help some people.

However, Mr Conway says more detail is needed on who qualifies for the transitional benefit.

"Explaining how that mechanism will work and who will qualify - obviously there's a lot of time before you'd need to put that in place. But we will be very interested in that because, to be frank, some workers are simply buggered by the age of 65."

Mr Conway says the age of retirement has already gone up in countries such as Germany and Australia, but the debate has come to New Zealand sooner than expected.

Labour also announced on Thursday it would make KiwiSaver compulsory for all workers from 2014, keeping the minimum contribution from workers at 2%, while gradually lifting employers' contributions to 7% by 2022.

Mr Conway says the lift in employer contributions will mean that over many years workers will be putting aside the equivalent of 10% of each year's income - and that is welcome.

Staying in work 'good for health'

A gerontology professor at Auckland University believes changing the retirement age would not put additional pressure on the health system.

Matthew Parsons says research shows that staying in the workforce is good for older people's health, as they remain fitter physically and mentally because they are staying active.

Professor Parsons says there is no evidence suggesting that having older people in work longer places any additional burden on the health system.

Debate needed, say groups

The business leader who chaired the Government's Savings Working Group says Labour's plan to lift the retirement age could be a significant circuit breaker in political reluctance on the issue.

Kerry McDonald says it is ridiculous that politicians have avoided tackling the retirement age debate.

He told Radio New Zealand's Nine to Noon programme on Friday the issue urgently needs to be addressed and could help unlock discussion on major issues with savings, productivity, investment and the tax system.

"The retirement age needed to be evolved and it didn't need radical surgery. It just needed a shift in the arrangement and I think that's what Labour has focused on and I hope now the Government picks up the issue."

Mr McDonald says the performance of the economy needs to be improved to afford a generous superannuation fund, but a sense of reality is needed on what New Zealand can afford and what it can't.

But the co-director of Auckland University's Retirement Policy and Research Centre believes the issue should not be dealt with as part an election debate.

Michael Littlewood says if superannuation has to change, the easiest way to do it is to lift the age of eligibility.

Mr Littlewood told Nine to Noon a debate has to be had - but it is not going to win votes for any party and should be taken out of the political process.

"We need to talk about it, we need to make decisions based on good research and we need those decisions to be supported by most New Zealanders. And then we leave it to the politicians to actually implement those decisions."