With less than a year to go before the re-employment age is raised, unionised firms are pulling ahead of the pack, with nearly three-quarters already re-hiring older workers over 65.

The number of unionised companies doing this has nearly doubled from a year ago, the labour movement revealed yesterday.

The Government announced in April that the re-employment age would be raised from 65 to 67 from July 1 next year. Currently, companies are obliged by law to offer eligible workers re-employment when they turn 62, and they can stay in work until they are 65.

Among the 1,400 unionised firms, 1,016 are keeping older workers on beyond 65, up from 585 last year.

National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) deputy secretary-general Heng Chee How called this "very good progress".

Speaking at an NTUC roadshow in Chevron House yesterday, he said he expects unionised firms to be ahead of non-unionised ones in preparations for the new law.

But while NTUC's efforts will focus first and foremost on firms in the union fold, he added: "We are more than happy to advise non-unionised companies."

Of the 1,016 unionised companies which re-employ staff over 65, 183 have a written policy to re-employ up to 67, up from 102 last year.

Asked why most of these companies are still re-hiring on an ad hoc basis instead of setting down re-employment policies in writing, Mr Heng suggested: "Perhaps they want to get more guidance and more information."

He hopes that a new handbook on re-employment, which NTUC launched yesterday, would help more companies to "do it early, and do it right".

The book was given out at the roadshow, which was attended by an estimated 2,000 people. It will also be made available to all union leaders and human resource departments in all unionised companies.

Unionist Philip Lee said some employers still struggle to reconcile themselves with the costs of re-employment, such as higher medical fees or the seniority-based wages that older workers command.

"But they forget they are paying for experience," said the general treasurer of the Singapore Industrial and Services Employees' Union.

He added that companies also need to put more effort into redesigning jobs to make work lighter for older employees.

One such worker is former machine operator Sng Boon Huay, 75, who has worked at electronics manufacturer Mitsui High-Tec for 36 years. The company chose to let her stay on after she reached retirement age.

Previously, her tasks included lifting heavy materials, but for the past four years, she has been assigned to lighter work.

She receives the same pay as before her re-employment, although she has had her leave cut from 17 days to 15.

The great-grandmother said in Mandarin: "I want to keep working there as long as my health permits. I don't want to stay at home.

"My four children have their own families to support, and I don't want them to give me pocket money. I'd rather earn for myself."