Approximately 1,300 employees in the Cayman Islands civil service – more than one-third of the entire workforce – could retire as of today if they wished.
“We’re encouraging them to stay [until 65], and we’ve found that more and more, that the baby boomers are staying with us.”
About 200 of those employees are age 60 or older and have been allowed to continue working past what had been the normal retirement age (60) until the law was changed in September extending the government retirement age to 65.
If that step had not been taken by Deputy Governor Franz Manderson’s office, those employees would have been considered “statutorily retired” and forced not to come to work until the law was amended.
The remainder, about 1,100 civil service workers ages 50 to 59, could still take early retirement now, according to Portfolio of the Civil Service Chief Officer Gloria McField-Nixon, who on Wednesday revealed the surprising figures during the opening of a three-day professional development conference for civil servants at the Marriott Beach Resort on Grand Cayman.
“It’s something that’s happening everywhere. The baby boomers [generation born after World War II] are aging and leaving the workforce,” she told the Cayman Compass.
Anecdotal evidence gathered over the years by civil service human resources managers suggests that age 57 was the “average age” that employees with at least 10 years of pensionable service chose to retire. However, Ms. McField-Nixon said that was before the change in the retirement age. She noted that many of those employees age 60 and over are now opting to stay on with government.
If they do not choose to stay, the government service could find itself losing several hundred workers in a very short time, she said.
“We’re encouraging them to stay [until 65], and we’ve found that more and more, that the baby boomers are staying with us,” she said.
If the older government employees do stay longer, it would help reduce the unfunded financial liability in the government’s Public Service Pension fund, which has been estimated recently at more than $200 million over a rolling 20-year period.
Ms. McField-Nixon said the change in the retirement age to 65 was expected to shave about $30 million off that future liability.
Going the other way, a large number of early retirements could place additional strain on an already underfunded pension scheme for government workers, forcing the plan to pay out more cash, earlier, to participants.
One area where the “graying” government service has been noted recently, Mrs. McField-Nixon said, is in the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.
A recent survey of the police staff found that 23 percent of all current police officers are between ages 50 and 59, while 65 percent of the department’s officers are over 40.
Fewer than 5 percent of RCIPS officers are between ages 18 and 28, the survey in August found.
The relative proportion of older RCIPS officers is not of great concern to the force’s senior commanders, but the fewer younger officers is a worry, according to officials, especially as the department considers who will be leading it in years to come.
Ms. McField-Nixon said this is a similar concern for the overall civil service, with a slightly different emphasis. If older workers do stay on longer, the younger ones may find that entry-level employment opportunities are not available.
In the future, the human resources director said, she sees a shift toward job performance, rather than longevity, in determining who gets and keeps jobs in the government service.