Members of the Royal College of Nursing are being urged to take part in an online vote over whether to hold an official ballot on strike action over pay.
The RCN will today begin asking 270,000 nurses and care assistants across the UK for their views on whether to go on strike over pay.
“If the government expects to fill the soaring number of vacant jobs, it must value nursing staff more than”
They will also be given a separate option of taking “action short of a strike”, including only working contracted hours, demanding to be paid for overtime and not completing duties expected of a higher pay band.
The online vote will remain open until 7 May and the results will be announced at the union’s annual congress in Liverpool next month. However, a separate formal ballot would be required by law ahead of any industrial action.
Last month, the governments in England, Scotland and Wales announced NHS salaries for nurses and other staff on Agenda for Change contracts would increase by just 1% this year, based on recommendations from the independent NHS Pay Review Body.
It follows several years of NHS pay restraint, which unions claimed amounted to a 14% real-terms cut in wages for nurses since 2010, due to rising living costs.
The government has also previously announced its intention to keep public sector pay rises capped at an annual average of 1% until 2020.
“Nurses should not have to fund the NHS deficit from their own pay packets”
Other health unions – including Unison and the Royal College of Midwives – saw their members take industrial action over NHS wages in 2014, but the RCN decided against joining them. Its members have not been on strike officially in the college’s history.
But Janet Davies, the RCN’s chief executive and general secretary, said if the college’s members wanted a formal ballot “then it will be carried out without delay”.
“If they want to send the government a different message that they are no longer prepared to work unpaid overtime or cover for more senior colleagues, then this is the way to do it,” she said.
“Patients won’t get the care they deserve from a nursing workforce that is short on numbers and low on morale,” she said. “If the government expects to fill the soaring number of vacant jobs, it must value nursing staff more than it has in recent years.
“Years of real-terms pay cuts have left too many struggling to make ends meet. Nurses should not have to fund the NHS deficit from their own pay packets,” said Ms Davies.
“Whatever nurses decide, it is becoming clear that their goodwill cannot be relied on indefinitely. The government pay cap is fuelling a recruitment and retention crisis that is as damaging for patient care standards as it is for the nurses themselves,” she added.