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RCN congress threatens ballot for industrial action if employers attack national pay deal


Did Andrew Lansley do enough at congress to reassure nurses about his reforms?

Any attempt to impose a pay increment freeze on nurses will face industrial action, the Royal College of Nursing has warned.

An angry RCN closed its annual congress last week by overwhelmingly backing a ballot for industrial action in response to any attack on the Agenda for Change pay scales.

The emergency vote was sparked by a keynote speech from health minister Anne Milton, who shocked delegates by telling them an incremental pay freeze – rejected nationally by the union in January – was still on the table at local level.   

The minister, a former district nurse and RCN steward, told delegates: “I want each different area to make up their own minds about whether or not they want to do that [freeze increments] – but the option is there if you want.”

The original deal, tabled by NHS Employers on behalf of trusts nationally, offered no compulsory redundancies for staff up to band 6 – and “as few as possible” for more-senior nurses – in return for a two-year freeze on pay increment increases, on top of the existing two-year freeze on their basic pay.

Ms Milton’s speech provoked shouts of “no” from the congress floor, and a hastily tabled motion urging the RCN council “to ballot the membership for industrial action in the event of any imposition of any incremental pay freeze”.

On Thursday the motion – amended to apply to imposition of “any proposal which challenges the nationally agreed pay agreement” – was passed with a vote of 97% in favour.

RCN Scotland member Lisa Falconer, who proposed the motion, said she was “shocked when Anne Milton raised an issue that I thought we had made our voice clear on”.

College chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter said: “The increment proposal was roundly rejected over Christmas and we were very surprised when the minister referred to this in her speech.”

He added: “We wanted to send a very firm message: you do this and we really are saying we’ve had enough. I would hope the Department of Health would rethink this.”

But the DH stood behind Ms Milton’s comments, saying it was encouraging trusts to broach the idea with staff. A spokeswoman said “many staff have told employers that they are more concerned about job security than pay”.

She added: “The challenge facing each organisation is different. We have therefore encouraged employers to discuss the workforce implications of local plans with their local trade union representatives and staff.”

Josie Irwin, the RCN’s head of employment relations, told Nursing Times the government had “better watch out”.

“What congress has said is that however it is imposed, nationally or locally, that would be something to make us consider taking a ballot for industrial action,” she said.

But she added that the motion did leave scope for employers to propose a freeze without triggering a ballot. “The resolution passed today doesn’t close off options in terms of negotiating a way out of the difficult situation that employers find themselves in,” she said.

Any ballot for industrial action would include only the staff of those employers attempting to impose a change, she added.

A ballot would be a “last resort” taken in hope that the prospect of nurses taking industrial action would “bring employers to their senses”.

She said she was not currently aware of any NHS employers proffering an increments freeze, but said some trusts were attempting to “block incremental progression” using employees’ sickness absence or disciplinary records.

Last year Nursing Times revealed that foundation trusts across the country has been working on proposals to freeze or slow increment rises, and were lobbying the government to implement a national freeze.

The RCN leadership has suggested that if the college was pushed to industrial action – it would be the first time in its history – it would be more likely to involve “work to rule” tactics than strike action.

NHS Employers declined to comment.


Did Andrew Lansley do enough at congress to reassure nurses about his reforms?

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Readers' comments (3)

  • this should be dead and buried, no freeze on increments what so ever!!!

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  • Anne Milton is a traitor to nurses. I'm so fed up with all this crap!

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  • Nowhere NEAR far enough!!!! He made all the right noises, but when it comes down to it they mean little.

    We should have an ALL OUT STRIKE, NOW!!!! Not just about our increments, not just about proposed cuts, but EVERYTHING!!!!

    C'mon Lansley, finish what you started, and follow through with what the people you are supposed to represent want!

    And I don't think it is worth paying any attention to Anne Milton, she is obviously too worried about her cushy job to rock the boat by supporting our profession.

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