Unison is taking legal action against the Nursing and Midwifery Council over “intimidating” claims that nurses who strike could be in breach of its code of conduct.
The move comes as millions of public sector workers are being balloted over whether to take part in a “day of action” starting on 30 November in protest at pension reform.
The government backed plans to scrap final salary pensions, raise the retirement age and increase employee contributions, before negotiations with unions had concluded.
Nursing and Midwifery Council chief executive and registrar Dickon Weir-Hughes said although the regulator respected nurses’ “democratic right to express support for their trade unions”, “this must never be at the expense of the people that they are caring for”.
He added: “In considering how to respond to calls for industrial action, nurses and midwives must ensure that their actions do not jeopardise good standards of care.”
He also reminded nurses that their registration could be at risk if they failed to comply with the NMC’s code of conduct.
This has prompted Unison to announce it will lodge an injunction against the regulator on Monday. If Unison wins, the NMC will be forced to retract its statement on the basis it acted beyond its powers.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “We have taken legal advice, and in our view, the NMC’s threatening statement was wrong. If members choose to take lawful industrial action they will not be in breach of the code of conduct.”
“We will not allow our members to be threatened or intimidated, and we are taking legal steps to challenge the NMC.”
Meanwhile, NHS Employers last week wrote to human resources directors advising them to take on board the NMC’s code of conduct.
It has produced a template “policy statement” on industrial action for trusts to use, which states “payments under productivity bonus schemes may be adversely affected” and annual leave entitlement will not accrue for staff who strike.