Nearly 80% of nurses who voted in the Royal College of Nursing’s consultation on industrial action over pay would support a strike, but the number that took part was too few to force a formal ballot.
According to the results of the three-week consultation, 78% of RCN members are prepared to strike over the government’s ongoing policy of NHS pay restraint.
“Getting 52,000 NHS members taking part shows the strength of feeling”
In addition, 91% of RCN members said they would take part in some form of industrial action, such as working to rule or protesting, and 97% said they rejected the pay cap.
The online poll took place between 13 April and 7 May, with the RCN urging 270,000 of its eligible NHS members, including both nurses and healthcare assistants, to take part.
The subsequent turnout was around 19%. While around 52,000 RCN members took part in the indicative survey, it fell short of the number necessary to spark a formal ballot on taking industrial action under its rules, said the college today.
In spite of this, the RCN described the result as “unprecedented” and claimed that it demonstrated a “real appetite” for industrial action from the college’s members for the first time in its history.
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Michael Brown, chair of the RCN council, said: “Getting 52,000 NHS members taking part shows the strength of feeling about pay restraint – and the percentage in favour of taking action cannot be ignored.”
Announcing the results on Sunday morning at the RCN’s annual congress in Liverpool, he called for an emergency resolution to discuss the outcome of the poll and to decide the college’s “next steps” in terms of protest action.
As a result, a resolution was subsequently tabled and passed at the conference at one od the first items on the agenda. RCN members present at congress overwhelmingly voted to support “ a summer of planned protest activity, followed by an industrial action ballot, should the next Westminster government fail to end the policy of pay restraint”.
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The RCN’s official position is that the government in England’s ongoing 1% pay rise cap is damaging both recruitment and retention to the nursing profession.
For the seventh year in a row, nurses in England received a 1% pay rise from April, as did their colleagues in Scotland and Wales but with some other sweeteners for those in the lowest bands.
The recommendation was made in March by the independent NHS Pay Review Body, which analysed evidence submitted by ministers, employers and unions.
It was immediately accepted by the government, which has a long-term policy of capping NHS pay rises at 1% and has previously indicated that it should continue until 2020.
However, a growing number of significant voices have joined unions this year in warning that continuing the policy is damaging the health service’s ability to recruit and retain nurses.
Among others, such warnings have come from the peers and the pay review body itself.
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Other unions, including Unison and the Royal College of Midwives, took strike action in 2014 over pay, when the government sought to ignore the accepted pay review body process. However, the RCN’s leaders opted not to take part and did not formally consult college members.
Debates at its annual conference in previous years have indicated that RCN members are divided over whether to take strike action on pay and other workforce issues.