They told delegates that the proposals, which give nurses 2.75% in 2008-2009, followed by 2.4% and 2.25% in the next two years, are the best that could have been achieved by negotiation.
Josie Irwin, the RCN’s head of employment relations, said they were faced with constant pressure from the government to acquiesce to demands for a lower three-year settlement.
There was a telephone hotline in the negotiation room to Number 10 Downing Street, which often interrupted the negotiations that took place in autumn and spring.
The government’s policy of keeping public sector pay awards to 2% for the next three years was an ever-present threat. ‘Two per cent was the big elephant in the room,’ said Ms Irwin.
The government’s starting point was a multi-year deal worth 7%, which unions immediately rejected.
When the government came back with an improved offer of 7.2%, this was also thrown out by negotiators.
It was only when the 2.75% recommendation of the NHS Pay Review Body became known at the end of March that the figure went to 8%.
Ms Irwin said the deal was the best that could be achieved through negotiation.
‘There is no prospect of us getting a better deal. We would not be able to have talks about restructuring bands six and seven. The government is likely to react by staging. We would need to take industrial action in order to fight for more - we would not be able to get any more by negotiation.
She added that rejecting the proposals could jeopardise the entire Agenda for Change structure.
‘There is a real risk of fragmentation, with all four different countries wanting to do their own thing.’
But delegate David Harding-Price criticised the RCN’s failure to take industrial action last year following a ballot rejecting a staged pay award worth 1.9%.
‘Ninety-eight per cent of members who voted were in favour of industrial action,’ he said.