Unions will deliver a giant envelope to the Department of Health today to mark the start of a ballot on industrial action, including strikes, in a bitter row with ministers over NHS pay.
Members of Unison will stage the protest at the department’s head office in London, as ballot papers are sent to 350,000 of its members in England.
The ballot opens on 28 August and closes on 18 September. It asks members whether they want to take industrial action, inlcuding strikes, or industrial action short of strikes.
Fellow union Unite is already balloting their health members after the coalition government controversially decided not to accept a recommended 1% pay rise for all staff on Agenda for Change. The Unite ballot opened on Tuesday.
The Royal College of Midwives is also set to launch a similar ballot next month – for the first time in its history. The GMB is also due to ballot its NHS members.
“We are asking our members to vote yes to turn their anger into action”
The ballot results are due at the end of September, and depending on the results industrial action is likely to take place in October.
Unions estimate that the 1.3 million workers in the NHS have seen their pay fall by up to 15% in real terms since the coalition came to power in May 2010.
Unison said the government’s decision not to accept the review body’s recommendation would mean that 60% of NHS staff, including 70% of nurses, will not receive a pay rise this year.
Dave Prentis, the union’s general secretary, said: “Voting for strike action is never an easy decision – even more so for NHS workers who spend their lives caring for people.
“But the government’s refusal to give the vast majority any pay increase this year is a slap in the face,” he said. “So we are asking our members to vote yes to turn their anger into action.”
“There is still time for the unions to put patients first and accept our offer to come back to the negotiating table”
Department of Health
A Department of Health spokesman said: “Since May 2010, there are 13,500 more clinical staff caring for patients and we want to protect these increases. 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,” he said. “There is still time for the unions to put patients first and accept our offer to come back to the negotiating table.”
The union ballots are 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 will get not further rise.
In Wales, nursing staff on Agenda for Change contracts will get a one-off payment of £160 and those not yet at the top of their pay bands will 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.
The Royal College of Nursing has said it is not planning to ballot its members on strike action.