The NHS could be hit by strike action as soon as next month after a majority of Unison members voted in favour of industrial action over pay.
Results of a ballot of the union’s 250,000 health members in England, revealed this afternoon, saw 68 per cent vote in favour of strike action and 32 per cent against.
An overwhelming majority (88 per cent) voted in favour of action short of strike.
Unison’s head of health Christina McAnea told HSJ the result gave the union a “significant platform”, and industrial action could be taken as early as mid October.
Nine other health unions, including the Royal College of Nursing and Unite, are currently balloting their members with results expected over the next few weeks.
The ballots follow health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s decision earlier this year to reject the independent pay review body’s recommendation of a 1 per cent pay increase for all NHS staff.
Instead, the government imposed a two year deal in which employees eligible for incremental pay rises under Agenda for Change receive no separate cost of living rise, while employees not eligible for an increment receive a non-consolidated, non-pensionable, 1 per cent pay rise.
The government has offered the unions a deal to give staff a consolidated pay rise if unions agreed to a freeze on increments in 2015-16.
Ms McAnea said: “From Unison’s point of view we will definitely be planning some form of action following this result. We want to talk to the other unions to plan joint action and the plan at the moment is for action mid October.
“Our message to the government is come and talk to the unions. We have repeatedly asked Jeremy Hunt to talk to the unions about pay but he has refused. He is only willing to talk to us within the cost envelope he has set for pay.”
She added: “This is a significant majority for us and gives us a really good platform going forward.”
Unison today declined to tell HSJ how many of the 250,000 balloted members took part in the vote, saying it was still analysing the results.
Gill Bellord, director of employment relations at NHS Employers, said: “This yes vote is disappointing for the NHS and will concern thousands of patients who rely on its services, as well as many staff. But we remain hopeful that a decision will be made not to proceed with strike action.
“I would strongly urge unions to take patients out of this dispute and instead continue constructive discussions, exploring ways to come out of this period of pay restraint in a sustainable way.
“We have asked unions to ensure they give employers far more than the minimum seven days statutory notice to help plan patient care, should unions formally proceed to strike action. Employers can then communicate with staff about how it could impact their work and to minimise disruption to patients.”
A spokesman for the Department of Health said it was “disappointed Unison is planning industrial action and has rejected our proposals to give NHS staff at least 1 per cent additional pay this year and at least a further 1 per cent next year”.
“We cannot afford incremental pay increases - which disproportionately reward the highest earners - on top of a general pay rise without risking frontline NHS jobs,” he said.
“We remain keen to meet with the unions to discuss how we can work together to make the NHS pay system fairer and more affordable.”