Why are so many elderly Singaporeans still toiling away?

Friends from ASEAN countries are aften astounded to see our elderly still toiling away as cleaners. Aren’t their children able to look after  their ageing parents? How old are these elderly cleaners?  How much are they paid? These are the questions they frequently ask.

I feel ashamed when my friends from ASEAN countries ask such embarrassing questions.

But it’s the reality in Singapore. In shopping malls packed to the rafters with young shoppers the elderly cleaner in his/her 70s mopping the floor strikes a piteous figure.

In my many conversations with cleaners, whom I like to befriend, everyone said, “Well, it’s boring to stay at home.” But I don’t think this is the truth. They are just too proud to admit that their children have abandoned them.

In all the Asian countries I have been to, I did not any elderly cleaners. In Thailand, for instance, cleaners in toilets are young people. In food courts, again younger people. Probably they would die of shame if they were to allow their parents to work in their old age, least of all as cleaners.

Discussing the issue with a Malaysian electrician who came to my house to do some work, I asked, “Do Malaysians like to see their elderly parents work?”

“We want our ageing parents to enjoy life – to play mahjong, to have a good time with their friends. We give them money. No way we want them to carry on working till their 60s or 70s, ” he replied with some vehemence.

It’s a real shame in Singapore which constantly prides itself as a first world country but its elderly still needs to toil in menial jobs.

It’s the pursuit of materialism and greed by the young that is is the root cause of the problem I guess.

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6 Responses to “Why are so many elderly Singaporeans still toiling away?”

  1. Seniors are stigmatised, compartmentalised and stereotyped by the media in Singapore. We are never any good, only fit to perfume the public loos and bins around the island and clear the tables of chicken bones soiled with duck grease.

    Spare a thought and provide Seniors a platform, whereby they can be given the opportunity to air their views, display their talent and hone their skills.

    “Here I stand, your slave,/A poor, infirm, weak, and despised old man… /O, ho! ‘Tis foul!” (King Lear: III.2.19)

  2. Outwardly to seniors sweet words,
    But despise seniors it’s clear.
    Action not words.
    Seniors in their twilight years
    Toiling away like some modern day slaves
    Till their last breath.
    Tis a sad reflection
    Of the so-called great Singapore society.

  3. I think that most of the older folks do enjoy working after a fashion and since not all can work in an office — such as making drinks, wiping tables and emptying paper bins or refilling printer ink — many wld end up in more public places doing equivalent work. Other countries may not have so many visible old people because a) many don’t get to live to a ripe old age and b) many r in country side, not in cities. It’s their young who go to the cities… just my 3 cts worth 🙂

  4. We must differentiate “other countries” because there is a difference with the Commonwealth group, Europe plus the US and some Arab countries as opposed to the rest of the world.

    Having lived away in most of the Commonwealth countries and the US, I certainly know that they do live to a ripe old age in the cities without having to toil and earn their daily bread.

  5. Lim LA: I mean in Asean. Still, I won’t be so misty eyed abt how well the elderly are faring in the developed world either. heard the song “the streets of london”…?

    Here are two stanzas. Things ain’t changed much since that song became popular. Fact is, some pple do fall between the cracks, wherever, and welfare or no welfare… K? ;)))))

    Have you seen the old man
    In the closed-down market
    Kicking up the paper,
    with his worn out shoes?
    In his eyes you see no pride
    And held loosely at his side
    Yesterday’s paper telling yesterday’s news

    Have you seen the old girl
    Who walks the streets of London
    Dirt in her hair and her clothes in rags?
    She’s no time for talking,
    She just keeps right on walking
    Carrying her home in two carrier bags.

  6. Generally in Singapore, seniors are fit for trash cans. Yes, and after that they fall between the cracks.


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