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Health unions ballot members on strike action over pay freeze

More than 300,000 NHS workers could go on strike over a pay freeze, after two unions announced plans to ballot their members.

Public service union Unison will hold a ballot next month, asking its 300,000 members to back walkouts starting this October, in response to the Government’s rejection of recommendations for an across-the-board 1% pay rise for NHS staff.

The Government’s dismissal of the NHS Pay Review Body’s recommendations means that 60% of NHS staff and 70% of nurses will be denied a pay rise for the next two years, according to Unison. Health workers in England and Wales received a 1% pay rise in 2012-13, following a pay freeze in 2011-12.

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) announced today that it will also ballot its 26,000 members, after 43.8% of its membership – nearly 95% of all those who voted – said they were prepared to take strike action over the pay freeze. It will be the first time in the RCM’s history that it has balloted members.

If a ‘yes’ vote is passed, strike action will take place in early October. Further stoppages and ‘action short of a strike’ will last into early 2015.

GPs are likely to feel the strain when they are unable to refer patients to hospital for routine and more urgent tests. Nurses, therapists, healthcare assistants and medical secretaries are all likely to be among those joining picket lines if industrial action goes ahead.

Unison’s head of health, Christina McAnea, said that the Government had shown ‘complete contempt’ for NHS workers by rejecting the Pay Review Body’s recommendations.

She said: ‘Balloting for strike action is not an easy decision – especially in the NHS. But our members are angry at the way they are being treated and we are left with little choice but to ballot for action.

‘We hope to work closely with the other health unions to plan and co-ordinate action. It is not too late, however, for Jeremy Hunt to agree to further talks, without pre-conditions, to settle the dispute.’

The RCM said it was urging the Government to reconsider its position. In a statement, a spokesperson said: ‘The Government has previously made it clear that they do not want pay increments in the NHS and this is a clear attempt to dismantle the pay structure. But increments are awarded for increased skills, knowledge and experience. They are not a substitute for an annual uplift.

‘For the first time the independent Pay Review Body’s recommendations have been rejected, which is a clear attack on their independence and expertise. We want to go back to the independence of the Pay Review Body and stop political interference in NHS pay.’

The Unison ballot will begin on 28 August and run until 18 September.