When do you stop working? Age-old debate just won't retire

Retirement is not all rosy for men. [istockphoto]

Sometime in 2019, Bob Kain, the chief executive of LunaDNA, a company that facilitates the study of genetics, detailed how it is possible in the future for humans to live to be 150.

“As we live longer, we don’t want to add years to the end of our lives, but add years to the middle of our lives. We want to ensure that we get those years when we are more vibrant (and) active and possibly working so that we can support those depending on us,” said Kain during a World Economic Forum event.

Kain’s strong belief emanates from data that showed life expectancy in the United States has improved from 47 years in the 1900s to the current 80. By 2050, this figure is expected to be 95.

It may have been the same revelation Charles Chege had when he moved to court last month to challenge the prescribed 60 years set for retirement. It is also not the first time to have a debate on when is the right age to retire.

Mr Chege wants people to work until they have had their fill. It is an opinion that has received mixed reactions from players in the labour sector with the pertinent question being: when is the right time to retire?

Albanus Muthoka, assistant manager in charge of operations at Enwealth Financial Services, a firm that manages pension funds as part of its business, notes that there is no ideal age when one can opt for retirement.

“Anyone can retire at any age,” he says. "But what you need is to plan your finances. Someone will retire at 40, another at 50 and there are those who will wait until 60. But it is how you prepare yourself.”

He says if you know what you want to accomplish in your career or workplace, and what you want to do thereafter, one needs to prepare for that time.

“Then you will say for me, I have achieved what I wanted and now it is time to transition to something else,” he says.

Group Executive Director CPF Financial Services, Joseph Rono, says the age of 60 is in line with practices in developed countries.

He describes it as ‘very ideal’, arguing that a 60-year-old is still productive.

“The pension liabilities are also fairly reduced at age 60 compared to 55,” he says.

In 2009, the government revised the retirement age upwards from 55 to 60, a practice that was immediately adopted by the industry.

Mrs Ruth Adaka displays some flowers and decorations flower at her home in Kiminini, Trans Nzoia. [Osinde Obare, Standard]

Then Public Service Minister Dalmas Otieno said the move was to reduce government expenditure on pension.

It is the same argument that is fuelling the debate to have the retirement age increased to 65 even as a Bill is before the National Assembly to firm up the 60 age cap.

A January 2021 circular from then Public Service Commission chair Stephen Kirogo, while indicating that from the said date, the government would not approve extension of services to officers beyond the specified retirement ages, Mr Kirogo said the 2009 extension of the retirement age was to safeguard critical skilled workers the State had spent resources training.

Boniface Mwangangi, Secretary General Association of Pension Trustees and Administrators of Kenya (Aptak), argues that the current retirement age cap is a policy requirement for public servants.

“Kenya does not have a normal retirement age of 60. It is not there. That is a government policy and it affects only public officers,” he says. “It is an instruction to the public entities; it is not a policy for the country.”

Data, however, does not support the extension of this age anywhere beyond 60 even as the country boasts of improved life expectancy.

A report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) titled Tracking Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in the WHO African Region and published August 2022, indicates that life expectancy in the country and the rest of the continent has improved from 46 in 2000 to 56 in 2019.

The 2022 Economic Survey by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) reports life expectancy to be 66.5 for women and 60.6 for men.

Monicah Karanja, a human resource practitioner, notes that the need for a cap in retirement age comes when one is working in a controlled environment.

“But you will find people who are running their own businesses do not have a retirement age,” she says.

She adds that having a retirement age gives an opportunity for new employees to join the workforce, especially in the current times when the market is not expanding.

“If we do not have people exiting, what do we do with those who want to come in?” she poses.

This is the opinion held by Embakasi Central MP Benjamin Mwangi who is behind the Public Service Commission (Amendment) Bill, 2023 currently before the National Assembly that seeks to institute changes to the Public Service Commission Act, 2017 by prescribing a mandatory retirement age of 60 years.

In the Report on Consideration of the Public Service Commission (Amendment) Bill 2023, Mr Mwangi argues that the amendment is meant to firm up its implementation so as to increase jobs available to Kenyans below the age of 60.

“The job vacancies are sometimes held by persons beyond the age of 60 on account that they possess rare knowledge, skills and competencies for the required service,” says Mr Mwangi, as documented in the report.

Alexie Muzame during her normal day at Vihiga Education City school in Vihiga County

He adds: “The Public Service Commission and other appointing authorities should be keen on succession planning to settle issues that are common in the public service through training other persons in the organisation to take up these positions.”

The Public Service Commission Act, 2017 does not prescribe the retirement age. It leaves this to the Public Service Commission Regulations as indicated in Section 80(1) of the Act.

It, however, states in Section 81 that where a public officer has attained the age of 50 years and has been in the service for an aggregate period of at least five years, they may opt to retire by giving the authorised officer at least three months’ notice.

The Public Service Commission Regulations, 2020 stipulates in Regulation 70 that subject to the Constitution, Section 80 of the Act (Public Service Commission Act 2017), any other relevant written law or a specific government policy, the mandatory retirement age in the public service shall be 60 years and 65 for persons with disabilities.

“Such age as may be determined by the commission for lecturers and research scientists serving in public universities, research institutions or equivalent institutions as determined by the commission in consultation with such universities, research institutions or equivalent institutions,” the regulation goes on.

As indicated in this regulation, the retirement age in most colleges and universities is usually 70.  In some cases, it can be stretched to 75.