The Royal College of Nursing members have voted in favour of a ballot for industrial action if any trust attempts to impose a local increment freeze.
Following a debate at the RCN’s annual congress this morning, college members voted 97% in favour of a ballot urging the college’s council to ballot the membership for industrial action if an increment freeze is imposed.
An amendment was added to the motion for the call for a ballot to apply to “any proposal which challenges the nationally agreed pay agreement” - in reference to Agenda for Change.
On Tuesday health minister Anne Milton revisited the idea of job protection in exchange for a freeze of pay increments, but at a local trust level, in her speech to the conference. Her comments came despite a similar national offer from NHS Employers having been rejected by unions.
Ms Milton said in the future individual NHS organisations “will be able to decide, in consultation with staff, whether to opt into the national enabling framework”.
She said: “Opting in means no compulsory redundancies for Agenda for Change staff in bands 1 to 6, and as few as possible for all other staff, in return for a two-year freeze on incremental progression. It would mean 80% of Agenda for Change staff would be protected.”
RCN Scotland member Lisa Falconer, proposing the motion, said: “I was shocked when Anne Milton raised an issue that I thought we had made our voice clear on. This month our pay freeze started. We know that we are going to pay more towards our pension and work longer hours for less.”
RCN member from Suffolk Tom Bolger said: “We need to be clear: industrial action does not need to mean strike action.”
He said nurses could take action by “stopping completing their tick boxes” or working only the hours they are contracted to work.
He said RCN rules would ensure that any action would not harm patient care, but encouraged the Congress to use the threat of industrial action. “I’ve had enough, I won’t put up with it any more,” he said.
RCN chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter said: “Nurses are not going to do anything that damages patient care. This is a symptom of nurses feeling that the government may be listening but they are not hearing.
“The increment proposal was roundly rejected over Christmas and we were very surprised when the minister referred to this in her speech, there was a gasp throughout the hall.”
He added: “There is anger about their legally binding terms and conditions apparently going to be flagrantly disregarded. I would hope the Department of Health would rethink this. They created this not us. We wanted to send a very firm message. You do this and we really are saying we’ve had enough.”