Rapidly aging Thailand tells businesses to hire more elderly

Wed Feb 10, 2016 3:45am EST
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By Pairat Temphairojana

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Pornsak Bowornsrisuk pulls an umbrella towards him to shield his head of thick gray hair from the blazing sunshine at the Bangkok bus terminal he manages.

"You've got to be damned tough to do this job," says the 63-year-old, who records bus arrivals and departures, and tots up fares collected from journeys across Thailand's capital.

Septuagenarian bus conductor Pranom Chartyothin moves nimbly to a door to guide students off the vehicle. She waves at the driver, 66-year-old Plang Pansaior, who glances in his rear view mirror before pulling away.

Such scenes will only become more common in Thailand as its population rapidly ages, unlike its neighbors with more youthful populations. The World Bank estimates the working-age population will shrink by 11 percent by 2040, the fastest contraction among Southeast Asia's developing countries.

Thailand's stage of economic development, the rising cost of living and education, and a population waiting longer to get married are among the reasons it is aging more quickly than its neighbors. An effective contraception program in the 1970s also played a part, said Sutayut Osornprasop, a human development specialist at the World Bank in Thailand.

Thailand's fertility rate dropped to 1.5 in 2013 from 5.6 in 1970, according to United Nations data.

The government is urging businesses to hire more older people to soften the impact of the aging workforce on productivity, as well as limit the rise in the cost of its modest pension scheme.

Thailand will have to boost productivity to foot the bill for supporting the elderly, Bank of Thailand Governor Veerathai Santiprabhob told Reuters in an interview in January.   Continued...

Pranom Chartyothin, a 72-year-old bus conductor, poses for a portrait while selling and collecting bus tickets in downtown Bangkok, Thailand, February 3, 2016.  REUTERS/Jorge Silva