Four health unions have announced they are going to ballot their members for industrial action over NHS pay.
Unison, Unite, the GMB and the Royal College of Midwives will ballot members over action including strikes and action short of striking.
Unison will ballot its 300,000 members in England between 28 August and 18 September over potential strike action.
“This government is showing complete contempt for NHS workers”
The ballot will cover health workers including nurses, therapists, porters, paramedics, medical secretaries, cooks, cleaners and healthcare assistants.
A ‘yes’ vote could lead to stoppages in early October, followed by further strikes and action short of a strike over the autumn and winter.
Unison’s head of health Christina McAnea said: “Balloting for strike action is not an easy decision, especially in the NHS. But this government is showing complete contempt for NHS workers.
“We hope to work closely with the other health unions to plan and coordinate action. It is not too late, however, for Jeremy Hunt to agree to further talks without pre-conditions to settle the dispute,” she said.
Unite will be balloting its 88,000 members in England, Wales and Northern Ireland over whether they want to take strike action or industrial action short of a strike.
Ballot papers will start landing on doormats from 26 August and close on 26 September.
The union’s head of health Rachael Maskell said: “Industrial action will be carefully calibrated to balance the real and deep anger that our members feel about their falling incomes, with concern for patient care which is paramount for the health professionals we represent.”
In addition, the GMB is preparing to ballot 30,000 of its members employed in the NHS − mostly in the ambulance service − for strike action and action short of a strike. The ballot will take place in August/September with any action commencing in October.
Meanwhile, the RCM has decided to ballot its 26,000 members in England on industrial action for the first time in its history.
Members will be balloted in September, with potential industrial action also expected to take place in October. They will be asked if they are prepared to take strike action and if they are prepared to take industrial action short of a strike.
The college said it expected this would take the form of a short stoppage, followed by action short of a strike.
Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the RCM, said: “This is a step that our board has not taken lightly, hardworking midwives are deeply concerned that the independent pay review body is being ignored and the NHS pay structure threatened.
“Midwives are at the end of their tether,” she said. “They have already accepted long term pay restraint and changes to their pension and terms and conditions.
“Meanwhile, they are working harder and harder to deliver high quality care with continuing shortages of midwives and daily pressures on services,” she added.
The union announcements today come in response to the government in England’s decision to reject the NHS Pay Review Body’s recommendation to increase the pay of all staff in Agenda for Change by 1%.
Ministers have offered a two-year deal in which staff at the top of their pay band will receive 1%, but those due incremental pay awards get not further rise. In addition, the 1% award is non-consolidated so will not count towards pension entitlements or shift pay, and could be withdrawn at the end of March 2016.
Earlier this month, the Welsh government said it too would not be following the Pay Review Body’s recommendations. Instead, nursing staff on Agenda for Change contracts in Wales would get a one-off payment of £160 and those not yet at the top of their pay bands would still get an incremental pay rise.
The Scottish government is the only UK government so far to accept the recommendations of the independent NHS Pay Review Body to award all staff a 1% consolidated increase.
The Northern Ireland government has yet to announce its arrangements.
“We are disappointed that unions are balloting for industrial action”
Department of Health
A Department of Health spokesman said: “NHS staff are our greatest asset and we know that midwives across the country are working hard. That’s why they should receive at least 1% additional pay this year and next.
“Since May 2010 there are 1,700 more midwives helping expectant mothers and we want to protect these increases,” he said. “We cannot afford a general pay rise on top of incremental pay increases without risking frontline jobs.
“We are disappointed that unions are balloting for industrial action. There is still time for the unions to put patients first and accept our offer to come back to the negotiating table,” he added.
The Royal College of Nursing has said it is not planning to ballot its members on strike action, instead opting to fight the pay decision “politically” by lobbying MPs and staging protests.
RCN leader Pater Carter used a keynote speech in June to steer members away from strike action over pay. He advised members to “think carefully” before calling for a strike ballot, and instead advocated alternative forms of action such as lobbying MPs and protests.
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