The Royal College of Nursing council has agreed to ballot members for unprecedented industrial action in January if no further progress is made over pensions.
The college has announced that in a meeting today is council members unanimously agreed that members’ ongoing concerns over proposed pension changes “must be addressed in a credible way through continued negotiations”.
“If negotiations fail by the end of December 2011, council will authorise a ballot on industrial action at a meeting in January,” the council concluded.
Chair Kath McCourt said the council considered the “wide range of views” expressed by members on the issue, and discussed the government’s revised proposals, announced on 2 November, at length.
The existing plan envisages a switch from a final salary scheme to one based on career averages and raise the retirement age. However although ministers say the accrual rate on offer is 8% higher than initially proposed.
Professor McCourt said council members from across the UK all reported that members were “very angry about the attacks on their pensions”.
“We as nurses would not take an unprecedented step over industrial action lightly, but the feeling is such that we will now move towards a ballot of our members in the new year if negotiations fail.”
She added that the council would support the “day of action” on 30 November, which will see other public sector unions going out on strike over pensions.
RCN general secretary Peter Carter said: “Nurses and healthcare assistants take their roles incredibly seriously, so the fact that they have asked us to prepare a ballot on industrial action shows something of the strength of feeling out there.
“NHS pensions have already been reformed, and nurses have accepted the need to pay more for their income in retirement. Nurses aren’t asking for the world, but a fair pension, as agreed in 2008, offers nurses a dignified but not lavish provision for their retirement.”
He said the RCN was committed to “see the negotiations through” but emphasised that the revised offer does not address concerns that nurses are voicing.
“When you keep asking people to work longer, pay more and still end up with less, something has to give,” he added.
However, Dr Carter has previously welcomed the 2 November offer as “certainly a step in the right direction”, and showed ministers had taken nurses’ concerns on board