Nurses have voted to carry out a ballot on industrial action if the government imposes a freeze on pay increments.
Most (96.9%) of 460 nurses voting at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) congress in Liverpool this week voted for a ballot of all RCN members if increments are frozen.
In January, RCN and other health unions rejected proposals to freeze the incremental pay for NHS staff in England, in exchange for a ‘no compulsory redundancy’ guarantee for some staff.
The RCN described the proposals as illogical and an “attack upon hard-working nurses”.
However, the no-redundancy offer was made in relation to nurses and others on pay bands 1-6, very few of whom would be at risk. In addition, the Department of Health when questioned, confirmed it had no authority to control foundation trusts to honour the agreement.
As well as the voting members support for the emergency resolution at RCN Congress debated yesterday, a show of hands of all voting and non-voting members also showed overwhelming support.
Speakers in the debate said industrial action – which has never been taken by members of the College so far – may include a work to rule, such as only working contracted hours, rather than going on strike.
In the debate, Tracey Budding, chair of RCN council’s membership representation committee, said: “It is a fundamental principle that members should not act in a way that is detrimental to patients.
“Let me also be clear. We have never taken industrial action, but we have been pushed to the threat of a ballot. Just the threat has been enough to make people see sense.”
Dr Peter Carter, RCN chief executive and general secretary, said: “Nurses are not going to do anything that damages patient care. This is a symptom of nurses feeling that the government may be listening but they are not hearing.
“The increment proposal was roundly rejected over Christmas and delegates were very surprised when the health minister [Anne Milton] referred to this in her speech – there was a gasp throughout the hall.
“There is despair about their legally binding terms and conditions apparently going to be flagrantly disregarded. I would hope the Department of Health would rethink this. Delegates wanted to send a very firm message to the government – nurses are saying they have had enough.”
RCN members can take industrial action in line with trade union legislation. However, College rules say members shall not act in any way that is detrimental to the wellbeing or interests of their patients or clients.