Nurses Balloted On Industrial Action Over Pay

Unions began balloting nurses on industrial action over pay today as a survey revealed strong public backing for their cause. Three-quarters of people (74%) said they support industrial action by nurses provided it does not affect patient care, according to a YouGov survey for the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).

More than eight in 10 (82%) also believed the pay award for nurses was unfair. Nurses in England have been offered a pay award of 2.5% staggered over a year. By staging the increase the government has cut the value of the award to 1.9%. The union’s general-secretary, Dr Peter Carter said: “We hope the government will talk and work with us so industrial action can be avoided.”

The government offered nurses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland a 1.5% pay rise in April followed by a further 1% rise in November. But devolved administrations in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland have agreed to pay the rise in full in one go. Nurses in England are still being offered the staged rise.

The RCN estimates that the government will save around £60m by keeping to the staged award. But if nurses withdrew their goodwill and called a halt to working unpaid overtime, the NHS would be obliged to provide cover through agency or bank nurses, the RCN said. This would cost a minimum of £13m every week.

Dr Peter Carter said: “Nurses are not demanding sky-high, inflation-busting increases in their pay, just the 2.5% an independent review body said they should receive. Now they have the chance to send a clear message to ministers that nurses deserve fair pay, not the pay cut in instalments the government is proposing. “Without a fair pay deal for nurses, we can not expect to attract much-needed new blood to the profession, let alone keep those more experienced nurses in the health service.”

The RCN is sending papers to almost 200,000 members in England asking them whether they wish to be balloted on industrial action, and what type of industrial action would be appropriate. RCN rules state that “members will not act in any way that is detrimental to the well-being or interests of their patients or clients”, effectively ruling out an all-out strike.

Industrial action may therefore involve refusing to work unpaid overtime, refusing to change shifts at short notice and insisting on taking breaks allowed by law.

Dr Carter added: “Our members are delighted that nurses in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland will now receive their pay award in full, but nurses in England will still be left out in the cold because they continue to be offered a lower pay deal.”

A Health Department spokesman said: “The government has been committed to ensuring NHS staff are better paid and has already announced the pay award for health professionals in England – a fair award reflecting the balance between the right level of pay and the need to be vigilant against the threats of inflation. Staging was an essential component of the government’s public sector pay strategy.”