Older, wiser and unsupported

"We don't have a retirement age anymore" - DoN Lucille McKenna
“We don’t have a retirement age anymore” – DoN Lucille McKenna

Nurses working past the retirement age are calling for equal rights to superannuation and workers compensation.

Australia’s ageing population is being pushed to keep working past the retirement age, but bear the costs of doing so themselves. Although the federal government raised the pension age to 67 in 2009, workers compensation payments still terminate by the age of retirement and superannuation is only paid until the age of 70.

Veteran nurse Connie Cullen is an 80-year-old Nurse Unit Manager. She feels that terminating workers comp and super based on age is “absolute discrimination”.

“I believe that if you’re working, you should get workers comp and super. It shouldn’t be stopped just because of age,” the RN said. “It’s a non-level playing field for older people.

“I’ve got a lot of scrub nurses that are close to 60 and once upon a time, to be considered scrubbing in at 60, they’d say you were too old,” Connie says. “You’re there holding and passing instruments to the surgeons and you often don’t get a morning tea break til 12 o’clock or one o’clock and you hit the place at eight o’clock, so people have to like their work to be that committed.

“It’s a very stimulating and exciting job but it’s also very emotionally draining and it’s hard physically,” the NUM told The Lamp.

Connie has been working as an RN at Westmead Hospital since it opened in 1978 and currently manages a team of surgical and operating theatre staff.

“It is physically demanding but it’s like everything that you do day-in and day-out, you get used to it,” Connie said. “The commitment in the older staff is quite remarkable.”

Connie is calling for policies to ensure working nurses and midwives are paid superannuation and covered for workplace accidents, regardless of their age.

“Why should it make any difference, depending on your age, whether or not you can be paid workers comp? They’re doing a job and I feel very strongly about that,” Connie said.  Director of Nursing at St Mary’s Villa Nursing Home, Lucille McKenna, believes better legislation is needed to retain older nurses.

“Since the federal government is promoting and asking people to keep working, I think they need to make sure, particularly in state government, that they’ve got all their legislation in place to support older people,” Lucille told The Lamp. “They’re a bit behind the times when it comes to keeping older nurses working. When it comes to things like workers comp, they’re dragging the chain.”

According to the latest population projections by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the number of Australians over the age of 65 will double in the next four decades. Within the next seven years, almost 85% of labour market growth will come from people over the age of 45.

Lucille, who is 70, believes that retaining experienced nurses is important as they have more expertise and clinical knowledge to contribute in the workplace.

“Because you’re experienced, you’ve seen most things before so you have that wealth of knowledge to capture when there are difficulties or problems,” the DoN explained. “You take on a senior clinician’s role in educating younger nurses, in supporting them and mentoring them, and I hope I’ve done that with many.

“I’m a very collaborative nurse, I like to run things past the Registered Nurses and I think I’m a very inclusive manager, so you have the benefit of the younger people too and their knowledge.”

Lucille has worked in aged care for 45 years, where she sees many nurses who are also working past the retirement age.

“In my facility there are probably three that are past the pension age at the moment; we don’t have a retirement age anymore.”


Retaining older nurses

Planned changes to the NHS pension scheme and a harsh financial climate are pressuring British nurses to work beyond the normal retirement age. This has led to a Working Longer Review made up of representatives of the Department of Health, health trusts and health trade unions. Measures being looked at to encourage the retention of older nurses in Britain include:

  • Adequate resources and support to deliver high quality patient care.
  • Appropriate recognition and use of skills and experience.
  • Tailored education and training.
  • Continued opportunities for career advice and progression.
  • Equal access to flexible working.
  • Proactive occupational health systems.
  • Flexible approaches to retirement.