The Royal College of Nursing is to ballot its members on whether to accept or reject the government’s “final offer” on pensions, it has announced.
The RCN council met earlier today to discuss government’s proposals on the NHS pension scheme, which will see employees move from a final salary scheme to one based on career average earnings, an increase in the retirement age and an increase in staff contributions.
The latest deal on the table involves an improved accrual rate than that previously offered, the extension of protection for workers up to 13.5 years away from retirement and the retention of the Fair Deal, the policy that provides pensions protection for staff transferring out of the NHS.
In a statement this afternoon, the college announced that its members would have the opportunity to vote on whether to accept or reject the proposals, in recognition of the “depth of feeling” on the issue.
The decision follows comments made in this week’s Nursing Times by RCN chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter in which he said deciding to accept the offer would be a “difficult message” to give to the college’s 400,000 members.
In today’s statement, RCN council chair Professor Kath McCourt said: “We have recognised that there will be no further improvement in the government’s proposals and this is the most that can be achieved through negotiation.
Professor McCourt added: “Council is extremely aware of the depth of feeling from across the UK on this issue and that is why we are now asking members for their views.
“It is critical that nurses and healthcare assistants respond to our questions, have their say and influence what happens next. Members will receive full and detailed information in the coming days and weeks.”
Meanwhile, Unison representatives today voted to continue discussions with the government rather than taking further industrial action.
Dave Prentis, Unison general secretary, said: “Our health members gave their support to talks on the NHS scheme entering a final phase, due to end in late January. When we have a final offer, we will take it back to members in a full ballot.
“Our action on 30 November got ministers back to the table, since then we have made some real progress… The overwhelming majority of NHS scheme members won’t face contribution rate rises in 2012.”
But should negotiations fail, “our industrial action ballot, which remains live, gives us the option to take more strike action”, Mr Prentis said.
The moves follow a decision last week by the NHS executive of the union Unite to reject the offer on behalf of its 100,000 members.
But the Department of Health dismissed the Unite decision on the basis that the union only represented 7% of the NHS workforce. It said the future of the deal would be decided by the unions “representing the majority of staff”.
The leaders of Unison, which has around 400,000 health members, are also due to decide today on whether to accept or reject the government’s offer.