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.