Royal College of Nursing staff are considering a revised pay offer of 3. 7 per cent from 1 April, but it appears unlikely that it will be enough to prevent them threatening some degree of industrial action, including a possible boycott of the college's congress in May.

Unions APEX, GMB and the National Union of Journalists are consulting the 700 RCN staff about the offer, up from the 3. 2 per cent originally proposed by the college's council, but still considerably below the 5. 7 per cent agreed in the original pay formula.

The unions had requested financial information to back up the RCN's claim that the higher award was 'unaffordable', but, according to APEX branch secretary Kevin McNerney, some of the information was withheld on the grounds that it was commercially sensitive or concerned individuals.

'We are in discussion with our members, but if these are not successful we will consider what collective action they might want to take, ' he told HSJ.

RCN staff are angry about the council's decision to cut this year's award, but in part the illfeeling is due to the council's lack of consultation beforehand.

'They would have known about this situation from February last year, but there was no discussion with the unions, ' Mr McNerney said.

RCN activist and former presidential candidate Ray Rowden described the college's approach to its own staff 's pay as 'hamfisted'.

'If you have a pay formula, you can't just rip it up without consent - if another employer was behaving like this, the RCN would hit the roof on behalf of their members, ' he said.

Members had voted for a significant subscription increase last year, so it was understandable that people should now ask where that money had gone and why the college was arguing that the pay formula was no longer affordable, he added.

There is lingering concern from both staff and members that the college continues to negotiate a substantial pay package - possibly including removal and housing expenses - with Beverly Malone, who has been offered the post of general secretary.

The pay formula which the council has dropped covered all college posts, including that of general secretary.

But not everyone is sympathetic towards the RCN's staff. While concerned at the college's apparent willingness to negotiate an enhanced package for its new general secretary, Mike Hayward, chair of RCN Portsmouth branch, said some college activists believe staff are being 'greedy'.

'Council has taken on board the views of the rank and file people like myself who are non-paid that to keep giving a pay award of 5. 5 per cent is just not on - officers get paid around£40,000 and you can't command salaries like that in nursing unless you're in the top jobs. '

A spokesperson for the RCN confirmed that an increased award of 3. 7 per cent was on the table with further talks scheduled with unions for next week.