The union Unite has started sending out ballot sheets for a consultation of its members on possible strike action over the government’s controversial NHS pay offer.
Ballot papers will be “landing on members’ doormats from today”, asking whether they want to take action as a result of “their derisory pay offer”, the union said in a statement issue on Friday. The ballot will close on Friday 30 May.
Depending on the outcome of the consultation exercise, Unite will potentially proceed to a full industrial action ballot in June, with industrial action pencilled in for July.
Fellow union Unison is expected to ballot for industrial action, including strikes, in the summer, after its members voted overwhelmingly in favour of the move at their annual health conference in April.
Unite has 100,000 members in the NHS and will be balloting its members in England and Northern Ireland.
Its members in Wales have already been consulted on the pay issue and rejected the government’s offer by more than 90%. The union will not be balloting in Scotland, where the devolved government has agreed to pay the 1% pay rise to all staff.
“We will be urging our members for a decisive mandate to move to the next stage of a full industrial ballot”
The go-ahead for the consultative ballot was confirmed at a meeting of Unite’s national health industrial sector committee.
Unite claimed it had never had such angry feedback from its members, following the government’s announcement in March that 600,000 NHS employees would get no cost of living pay rise on 1 April.
The government rejected the NHS Pay Review Body’s recommendation for a blanket basic 1% pay rise for all staff on Agenda for Change. Instead, ministers said those at the top of their pay bands would receive the 1%, but staff eligible for incremental pay rises would not.
Unite head of health Rachael Maskell described it as a “divide and rule” pay offer.
She stressed that incremental increases were in recognition of increased knowledge and skills as staff progress in their careers – and are not part of the annual pay rise process.
Ms Maskell said: “We will be urging our members for a decisive mandate to move to the next stage of a full industrial ballot with the prospect of industrial action in July.
“Our members are taking this action reluctantly and with a heavy heart, but they feel they have no choice given the contempt that health secretary Jeremy Hunt has shown to the dedicated NHS workforce,” she added.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said the door is still open to unions for a blanket 1% rise, but only if they are prepared to negotiate further weakening of terms and conditions in the Agenda for Change contract.