Published: 17/04/2003, Volume II3, No. 5851 Page 5

Members of the Royal College of Nursing have voted overwhelmingly to accept the proposed new Agenda for Change pay system.

The vote of nearly nine to one in favour will come as a relief to ministers who will hope it sets the tone for ballots in the other major NHS unions, where significant discontent with the package has surfaced.

RCN members voted 88 per cent to 12 per cent to accept the deal on a 32 per cent turnout - one of the highest in RCN's history.

Nurses, however, are expected to be among the main beneficiaries of the new pay system and the RCN ballot papers went out with a recommendation to vote 'yes' from the union's leadership.

The RCN vote also represents an endorsement of the entire Agenda for Change package and the linked pay offer of 3.225 per cent a year for three years. Other unions, some of whose members stand to 'lose out' under the proposals, are taking a much more cautious approach.

The Royal College of Midwives also voted in favour, with 90 per cent for the deal on a 50 per cent turn out. Amicus and Unison - where activists have already started a 'no' campaign - will both hold two-stage ballots, with an initial vote on whether to allow the 12 early implementer sites to go ahead and on the three-year pay deal, and a second ballot in 2004, following a review of the experience at the 12 sites, on whether to accept the Agenda for Change package with any revisions.

TGWU has decided on a single ballot - but not until after the early implementation phase.