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Low turnout on pensions ballot leaves college sitting on fence


A “disappointingly” low ballot turnout among Royal College of Nursing members has led it to hold back from rejecting the government’s latest pensions offer.

Two thirds of those who took part in the ballot during February voted to reject the deal. But only 16% of the college’s 400,000 members voted.  

Nursing Times understands the college’s ruling council felt it would lack a mandate to reject or accept the government’s proposals unless turnout was 20% or above.

As a result, the RCN’s council chose not to reject the pension proposals on the back of the ballot result. It is seeking discussions with other health unions before deciding its “next steps”. 

RCN chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter said: “There is no escaping the fact that the turnout was disappointing and we will now have to reflect on the reasons behind that.

“We carried out a substantial engagement exercise with members, including emails, videos, Facebook chats, website stories and articles in our member publications urging members to vote and stressing the importance of the issue.” 

He added: “We have had a lot of feedback from members who told us that we could not have done more to highlight the vote and why it was important to take part.” 

Ralph Darlington, professor of employment relations at Salford Business School, told Nursing Times several reasons that may have impacted on turnout.

He said the “primary explanatory factor” was the college’s lack of “tradition or history” of industrial action, compared to other more “militant” unions. For example, he said average turnout for tube drivers in the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers union was 39%.

Professor Darlington also said that while he thought nurses were “very angry” about the proposed pension changes, there might be a “sense of resignation” that they would be implemented whether they voted against them or not.

Roger Seifert, professor of industrial relations and human resources management at the University of Wolverhampton Business School, said be believed nurses were “not apathetic about the issue” of pension reform. “It’s whether they think one day of action will make a difference,” he said.

Unite began a consultative ballot of its 100,000 NHS members on 1 March and has recommended they reject the government’s offer. Meanwhile, Unison has promised a “robust consultation” with its members on the deal.

British Medical Association members are to be balloted on industrial action short of a strike, after they voted to reject a pensions deal for doctors in January.


Readers' comments (10)

  • if you can think of anymore excuses other than the above please add them below.

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  • I am in the rcn and did vote not to accept the government's pension deal however when i tried to vote online the web site was never working, perhaps this was a government ploy, and i had to use the traditional postal method in order for my opinion the be registered, i know this may not be the only reason why the voting turnout was so low but this may have been a contributory factor

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  • I think one of the reasons for the low turnout was the RCN leadership itself. While others have been very vocal in their opposition, our leadership played it quiet. They tried to affect a change behind the scenes. Only at the end did Dr Carter et al, get off the fence, too late, me thinks

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  • I didn't vote as I felt the RCN were just too late! We should have been voting when everyone else did, and have been part of the national strike. I felt let down by the passive response to it all at that time and feel they are now doing too little, too late.

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  • I DID vote to reject the deal and now the RCN has decided to basically ignore the votes! How dare they! Well i'll know not to bother in the future now won't I!

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  • I voted to reject the governments pension deal. I voted on line, had no problem, did it first time.


    84% of members chose to do nothing, they can hardly then complain that the RCN is now "holding back" on what it should do next.

    The 84% who chose to do nothing have given the RCN nothing to fight with.

    The government will just say to them 84% of your members are obviously happy with our proposals, otherwise they would have voted. What can the RCN say in answer to that?

    The nurses in the future, whether that be 5yrs time or 20yrs time will be asking themselves, how did we get in this mess,why is my pension, working conditions so poor?

    They won't be able to blame the RCN, they need to look at themselves, their colleagues for the answer, their inaction is the reason.

    As for those above who post anonymously, WHY? If you believe in what you have to say, put your name to it!

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  • tinkerbell

    Peter carter was there speaking at the rally, he may have rallied too late for some but at least he came through at the end, prior to this he was on newsnight the day after the RCN ballot and got short shrift from Jeremy Paxman because by then he was on the ropes and everyone knew the RCN was not a force to be reckoned with.

    He may have left everything too late, maybe he too was duped by this unelected government and was giving them the benefit of the doubt, but at least he is trying to make amends now., stepping up and speaking out.

    I'm not even an RCN member but with Unite but i still think that right now he is trying to stand up for his members. He is starting to look like a beaten man but i think he has finally realised he should have spoken up sooner and he won't make that mistake again and is trying to make up for it by putting himself out there.

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  • Nurses only have themselves to blame. No point in blaming the RCN for this one or coming up with any other excuses. Voting was simple, but the nursing profession is on the whole, apathetic. Nurses will continue to moan about their situation, but no longer have any justification for doing so.

    Lorraine Scaife | 9-Mar-2012 4:56 pm

    There are a variety of reasons why people post anonymously or under a pseudonym. Trolls can be bothersome on this site.

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  • tinkerbell

    here's a conundrum i hope someone can answer, becaue i surely can't . After over a year of banging (or maybe more, how long have this shower of shit been in unelected government) on about OUR NHS, our working conditions, our pensions and no one where i work showing the slightest interest and then 3 days after my attending the NHS rally, my colleagues have come to me today to ask all kinds of questions about the future of OUR NHS, how privatisation might affect their pensions etc., I have never seen them so interested before. What's that all about, the fat lady has already sung.

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  • Quite frankly this smacks of the Rcn panicking at the thought of having to do something!
    Why would 20% be acceptable [still a pitifully low figure] but 16% not?

    Remember the govt rules with a much lower percentage approval than in this ballot...

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