An open letter to Tony Abbott – Shift work for nurses is NOT a lifestyle choice.

I’m not really the political type. I don’t have a major preference for any one party over another, and I don’t ever judge a party by just its leader – whomever he or she might be. I believe that there are flaws with all of the major parties, and I believe that the governing party should be changed regularly every few years. So when it comes to election time, I usually weigh up what affects me most at that stage in my life. But years ago when John Howard first started talking about the removal of penalty rates for shift workers, that’s when I began to get a little worried…

open letter to Tony AbbottI have had a relatively long, and exciting critical care nursing career that I began in my early 20’s. I’m not over dramatizing what nurses do – I know that the public are well aware of the lengths we go to for our patients, this is why we are continuously awarded one of the worlds most respected professions every year. So why would the government want to penalize the people that do so much good for our society?

After a rather stressful nightshift recently, whilst my head was still buzzing – yet my brain was fried, I composed this letter to Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party of Australia.



An open letter to Tony Abbott – Please don’t disrespect our nurses. Shift work is NOT a lifestyle choice.


Dear Mr Abbott,


I am writing to you after just finishing a gruelling 12 hour night shift. I am tired, my eyes are sore, my head aches, and my body feels sweaty and dirty.

I am an Intensive Care Nurse, and last night I spent many hours resuscitating someone’s baby. My amazing team and I just saved a life. And in some way – perhaps from providing that glimmer of hope during one of their darkest hours, we have saved the lives of the child’s parents now as well.

You, and the Australian public need me.  In fact you need my whole team. We are a group of highly trained and highly skilled individuals, who stayed awake all night – while the rest of the country slept in their nice warm beds. We left our husbands, wives, and our own children to go and care for the lives of strangers. We do this week in, and week out – and we do it damn well.

We do this ALL THE TIME, and at ANY TIME of the day and night.

You see in the world of clinical nursing, there are no boundaries to the hours of the day we work. We need to have a savvy team on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The sick do not stop being sick by 5pm on a Friday, and they do not miraculously get better just because it’s the weekend. And as for the holidays – well let’s just remind you that even more accidents and injuries occur during these periods.

I work long, hard, unsociable hours – but our camaraderie is paramount to get us through. And last night I saw camaraderie at its best.

But luckily (to sweeten what we do just a little bit), we get rewarded by our penalty rates. So when my body feels aged more than it should do because of the lack of sleep I get from staying awake all night, at least I get a little remuneration for it in the end.

And when my circadian rhythms are so messed up, and my hormones become imbalanced, and my immunity gets lowered from not getting the regular sleeping patterns that a “normal” worker would – And so on, and so on… (I am sure you get my drift).

But the hardest part is when I have to miss out on spending time at the weekends or holidays with my own family. So when I do come to work at these times, at least I get a little extra pay to make up for it.

And yes sure, as you have stated in regards to shift workers before: “If you don’t want to work weekends, then don’t work weekends”… But my contract doesn’t allow for that. I have to do my fair share of days, nights, holidays and weekends – we must ensure that the correct mix of expertise is available at all times of the day and night for the safety of our patients. Shift work is NOT a lifestyle choice for us.

I suppose I could go and get a different job and only work Monday to Friday… But then why would I waste these tremendous skills that I already have. I have been resuscitating people’s loved ones now for over 16 years. Intensive Care needs these skills, and our patients need us nurses that have gained these skills.

Intensive care needs us shift workers. We are a special breed. All nurses are.

What it comes down to is that we are the front line. As shift working nurses, we are providing the direct care to our patients to make them well again. At all hours of the day and night, we hold in our hands the most innocent individuals of our population – children.

I consider us to be like a bunch of super heroes – super heroes disguised in a pair of navy blue scrubs.

I’m not saying that you need to pay us the earth, just pay us what we are worth. And if you (and the public) need us to stay awake all night to heal these precious little bodies, then don’t take away our penalty rates. Give us this small reward for the amazing job that we do.

You need to be attracting nurses to the profession, not driving us away. And that is exactly what will happen if you take our penalties from us.

Is it really worth it?

Mr Abbott, one day you might be a Grandfather, and heaven forbid if your precious little darling ended up needing the help of this highly skilled team that I am so honoured to be a part of. Can you imagine if we all packed up our tools and went home for the day – just because it’s now past 5pm, and considered “after hours”?

Sorry, health care doesn’t work like that. We have a duty to our patients, and to their families.

I hope that you never have to walk inside the doors of an ICU. It’s a scary place to be. Not many people have it in them to do what we do. To keep it together in times of adversity, to keep a level head, and then to use our skills to save a young life.

It’s humbling. And it’s also very grounding. It really puts things into perspective as to what is important in life.

I hope that you can keep all of these points in mind, and show us the respect that we deserve. Please do not take away our shift penalty rates.


Respectfully yours,


All of the diligent and deserving shift workers of Australia.



IMG_1420Dani is a thirty (something) wife, and mother of one. She is a jewellery designer, a small business owner, a writer, and also an Intensive Care Nurse – so a bit of a mixed bag of skills really. She tries to navigate life balancing her creative spirit vs her stubborn streak, by being mindful of her own thoughts & behaviours – having (finally) learned that positivity is probably the only thing in life that she actually can control.

A self-confessed Instagram junkie, based in the eastern suburbs of Sydney. Her favourite things include power walking, window shopping, brainstorming ideas in her journal over a coffee, & relaxing with some cheese and a good red wine – all depending on what time of day it is!




35 thoughts on “An open letter to Tony Abbott – Shift work for nurses is NOT a lifestyle choice.

  1. I had to stop reading because of the over the top grandiosity in the writing. You say things like “nurses work all day, all night, while people are asleep”. And you address this letter to one of the most busiest persons in Australia. Mr Abbott doesn’t work 9-5 Monday to Friday, he does what needs to be done. Sure, we as nurses need to be a work until the small hours of the night and morning, but so does 15% of other jobs. I used to tend a bar at a club. When 5 o’clock comes around, I don’t get to go home, well, I didn’t start until 5 most nights.

    The world is changing. 24 hour shops are more common, things are open later, things are happening later. The whole 9-5 block is getting blurred. I sure would love extra cash for working until midnight, but not only is it a little precious, but nurses aren’t cheap.
    Think of the extra dollars a ward would need for one day, so a ward with 6 nurses, over a day that ward would need something like $1200+ more. Now think of how many wards are in a hospital, then think of the number of hospitals (in NSW or your state). That’s a shitload of money going to upset nurses that could be made into something else.

    I respect your opinion and I hope you respect mine <3

    • Thank you for your comments. While I do respect what you have to say, I just want to point out that these other jobs you refer to (such as bar tenders) that are working these hours are not saving lives like health care workers are.
      You are correct in saying that nurses (and Drs, paramedics, firefighters etc) are not cheap – but we are highly skilled, and we are saving probably the most important things on the planet… your loved ones.
      I’m sure if you, or your parent, or your child were in an Intensive Care Unit you would appreciate every cent that your specialist nurse is getting paid to be there.
      In addition – I am not saying that I want nurses to be paid more, I am only hoping that we are not paid any less for the intense job that we do. And this is what will happen if our shift penalty rates are taken away.

    • You under value yourself yes some business are opened 24 hrs, but if staff do not turn up or the right skill mix is not available it is not a life and death situation. Sure the business / livelihood might suffer but the doors can close till staffing improves not so in a Hospital. Sure the Pm doesn’t work 9-5 M to F he is also on a salary not a hourly wage and not week in week out 12 months a year often with no choice of shifts. He also has a deputy and rest of his caucas to back him up & pick up the reins if sick.
      Just saying

    • They earn 44-60k a year. Well under the average of someone who has to undergo a 3 year degree plus whatever post graduate studies they do (and they often do a lot). They’re already overstretched and overworked. And the work they do is, in my eyes (as a cancer patient) as important, and often more so than a doctor, yet alone a bartender…
      The difference btw – Abbot and the average corporate worker/doctor who work 60 + hour weeks) are reimbursed from it.
      And these roles, like that of community case workers, are vital.

    • A nurses gross annual wage is about $65 k – $75 k a year (in Victoria), depending on experience, which includes penalty rates for working un-social hours. Taking away penalty rates would reduce their wage considerably and would result in most living on poverty line wages. If that happened nurses would then earn considerably less than barmen. Lots of them would probably give up their regular jobs entirely or do temporary work instead.
      You should think more carfeully before you make posts comparing your job as a barman with health care professionals with many years experience.

    • Nurses have sick leave. We will just save it for weekends /public holidays and night shifts we do not feel like attending. The wards can then pay agency staff at 250% the cost and pay them penalties for nights weekends and holidays as well as paying me for the hours i was not there through sick leave. When we are at deaths door you will still see us at work if its saturday night if we need the money. As a 40 something crit care nurse I am a little less romantic about it. Penalties is all that keeps me in nursing an not working for one of the family companies. You would also lose a huge number of overseas nurses who buff their income by maximising hours worked with penalty rates high. The radical shortage of nurses(in QLD anyway), which is already quietly costing lives), will become so much worse when those nurses choose a country that still pays penalty rates(as most still do). Abbott has raped the medical system im Qld already via Campbell Newman (God rest his soul). He saved money that the australian populous will be losing in repairs to said health system for at least 10 or 20 years more. And when these sexually transmitted diseases start spreading amongst our children and are by then immune to antibiotics, the cost will be again subtle as more people just cannot have children. Removing free sexual health clinics for backpackers etc almost ensures now that diseases brought in have less chance of being sorted before they can burgeon. Genius money saving idea !
      Many nurses means if you take dollars from each you make a lot of money. Abbott has no idea on lifestyle choices. His sister is a lesbian and he feels she is less than a second class citizen and does not deserve basic human rights that our own native Australians had to wait decades to be permitted, last century. The damage will be felt for a generation. As the following government then spends to repair it, that spending will be spin doctored into the reason to vote Abbots team back in. Poor Fella my country!

  2. Great article/letter Dani! sums up perfectly what so many of us nurses think. We want to be respected and valued, not be taken for granted!
    Thank you frm a fellow nurse

  3. Well said, after over thirty years in critical care nursing (ICU / ED / Retrievals) there’s not a lot I haven’t seen. However I still am waiting for a politician to come and walk in my shoes at 4.30 in the morning whilst I sit with a family watching their son / daughter die from car accident caused by the drunk driver who decamped the scene. I am still waiting for the politician to help me roll the little old lady at 5 on a Sunday afternoon so I can inspect the pressure sores she got from the underfunded nursing home. I am yet to see a politician get a bucket and mop and clean my Resus Bay another trauma patient goes to theatre at midnight. Yes my job is satisfying but it takes a lot not only from me but my whole family, because they are the ones who patch me up and send me back for my next shift. So if a politician wants to remove my penalties then before he / she does, come and walk for a week in my shoes.

    • And very well said by you too Peter! This is the honest truth to what our job entails. Keep on doing your amazing work!

  4. Very well said and I thank you and all nursing staff for all the wonderful work you do.
    I work as a Disability Support worker and also work rotating shifts, I dont save lives like you but hopefully I help make the people we support’s lives a little better and more comfortable. I also hope with our work we keep the people we support out of hospitals thus saving the beds for others.

    As “RN” stated there are many jobs who work shifts, my late husband worked in a power station again a much needed 24/7 job. I feel many should be paid a little extra for working weekends and nights as it does take a huge tole on your health.

    Maybe Mr Abbot needs to watch you at work and see what you do in a shift not just pop in for a few mins and really see what you are talking about.

    • Agreed Debbie. Your role also helps others at all times of the day and night, so it should be respected just as much!
      Shift penalties should remain for all those who do not fit the 9-5 mould. We are working hours that out of the ordinary, and you are right, it does take a toll. I guess in private enterprise it may be more up to the employer to make the job more appealing out of hours, and thus decide to pay rates above the award.

  5. Great letter. As a nurse myself I totally agree. But as far as I’m aware, there has not actually been any mention of cutting penalty rates in the health sector? As far as I can tell, the discussions have been mostly around hospitality & tourism, and retail? Please someone correct me if I’m wrong. Since we are unionised profession and are protected through an EBA, I highly doubt we’d ever face this… Surely the ANF would never allow it?

    • Thank you for your comments Kate. In Australia, John Howard’s Work Choices plans first came in to discussion in 2005. And even though it was supposed to be “abolished” by Kevin Rudd in 2007, the threat still comes up in discussion around parliament even today. It is the threat to a decrease in pay to all nurses, doctors, caregivers, and all frontline emergency crew that we seek to discourage by writing articles such as this.

      • I appreciate your letter and the great work you and all nurses do. As Kate and you acknowledge, cutting of penalty rates in the health sector has not been mentioned. I personally think that if anything, penalty rates for nurses should increase, but referencing John Howards work choices from 2005 is a bit of a stretch. It was a decade ago. Keep up the good work! Thank you.

        • Thank you for commenting on this Reece.
          Unfortunately for my sector, the issues from the old “Work choices” debate still come up from time to time. Although the original idea was years ago, the idea is still a looming threat.

      • And in reply again Kate, I am not sure of how it is between the ANF and the NSWNMA. I am sure at the end of the day both would never allow it, but the threat still looms. Hence the decision to write this open letter after a night shift.

  6. Wow, just wow. Its because of morons like RN that we have people like Abott leading and embarrassing our country in front of the world.

    How dare you compare what medical staff, especially nurses, do for their entire life to an a-hole politician who works to stuff his own pockets and his friends at our expense, then once his term is over, gets a fat pension for the rest of his or her life?

    Ive only ever spent time in hospital twice when my children were born and that was enough to have even more respect for nurses than before. Especially nurses in NICU and ICU. If it wasn’t for these selfless people my second baby would no longer be with us (she was born not breathing) and how many more babies and parents out there in the same boat. And yes they do that day in day out, and if one of them wants to sound a little “grandiose” in a letter to a worthless piece of crap who wants to save money from health care and keeping our environment clean then so be it. I hope RN gets sick when nursing staff go on a strike and there wont be anyone there to resuscitate him or her.

  7. I SUPPORT YOU 110%!

    Nurses and Doctors save lives. I have worked in HR in a Hospital for many years and have seen so many of you never get the thank you, that you deserve. The penalty shifts are the least that we can do to show you all how valued you are.

    Cheers Ally

  8. I completely agree with you Dani, thank you so much for standing up for nurses so eloquently and accurately. And i actually think nurses should be getting a hefty pay RISE. Teachers, Speech Pathologists, etc earn more than we do, don’t do the unsociable hours we do and as much as their jobs are very important, they also don’t save lives and have the responsibility we do. It seems nurses will never be valued.

    • Thank you Shode.
      And it seems that it is only when people actually experience (for themselves) what we do everyday, do they start to have this way of thinking too!

  9. This is nice but unfortunately I’m “not really the political type” (read: only bother when it affects me and my pay) and I’m not a nurse. So I’m not going to contact my MP, nor march nor like or share nor do anything to change this. Only embarrassing bleeding-heart idiots are “the political type”. Right?

    • Thank you for your comments Mary.
      To me, “I’m not really the political type” means that I do not feel the need to debate every issue that is out there at the time. However, when an issue affects me directly (and my livelihood), I feel that it’s ok to make a comment. And I feel this article does just that.

  10. 100% agreed. I’m an ex leukaemia patient, current med student and this lady is NOT exaggerating or boasting when she says, “we are superheroes”. THEY are the real doctors in the wards, the ones who not only actually administer our medications and monitor us, but also be there as friends, confidants and companions in our most vulnerable moments. They 100% deserve double what they get right now. That someone would threaten their income, that governments would tell them to “get a higher paying job” to afford their own home is sickening.

    Here’s something I wrote for my nurses. They still have it stuck up in their locker room in my cancer ward =]

    • Thank you Nikhil.
      I have read your blog today, and I must say that I admire you wholeheartedly!
      It is people like you that we come back to work each day for. Thank you, and best of luck to you. I know you will go far with such an amazing attitude like the one that you have.

      • Thank you for this! Definitely following along now. I have some amazing nurses, and truly believe they are as, if not more important than doctors in the wards.
        Especially in my haematology ward, where nurses’ compliance with infection control/handwashing was 95%. It’s because of them that I’ve avoided a few infections which are literally life and death at those times.

        You guys are amazing, and I wanna share a response someone wrote on that blog post I linked you actually and my reply just to reaffirm it!

        “A nurse who’d be in charge of injecting chemotherapy through my central line – a long plastic tube that pumps medicines from the veins in your neck to your heart. Hell, it was a nurse who put that in too!’

        Did I misread the above or are you saying that a nurse put in your CVC? O.O”
        “Yeah he did actually!
        He works in the ICU primarily, where I guess many catheters have to be put in on short notice, and he lectures around the world, educating nurses and doctors to do what he does, at the same quality as he does, with often less resources than many. He’s better than any doctor in our region I think.

        Many nurses study further, especially in different fields, like management, business and even finance than we doctors do; that’s why often they’re well represented in higher hospital administration roles I believe.

        A nurse at my hospital, Liverpool Hospital, Sydney, actually established, expanded and manages the clinical trial facility at our hospital. He set up a fund, funded by him, fellow nurses and doctors (without government help) and it’s now self-sustaining and bringing back profit actually. He’s helping me get insights into site/sponsor relationships and how clinical trial sites operate on the ground for my book – he’s a genius.
        Yet he still managed to take some time to wish me well and share a joke as I was getting a lumbar puncture to rule out relapse today (he does this with many long term/currently suffering patients). The reason for their suspecting relapse I talk about here btw (or in the latest blog post) – but I mean that level of care and competence I see in a few doctors. But none I know also manage a whole clinical trial facility on their own in their spare time…

        Never underestimate nurses/hospital support staff or even junior doctors. Many are truly awesome, but somehow, most nurses manage to be great human beings too.”

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