NHS staff and managers have voted to strike at the end of the month in protest at planned changes to public sector pensions.
Seventy seven per cent of people responding to a ballot issued by union Unison said they wanted to take part in the mass public sector walkout due to take place on 30 November.
Among NHS employees, 82 per cent voted to strike. However the turnout was only 25 per cent.
They will potentially join millions of other staff belonging to health unions that are awaiting their own ballot results, including Unite, the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists and the British Dietetic Association.
The union members are angry at proposals to raise the retirement age, increase employee contribution rates and scrap final salary pensions.
Yesterday, the government made a renewed offer to unions that would increase the accrual rate and protect those closest to retirement from some of the changes.
Unison’s general secretary Dave Prentis said: “The decisive yes vote in the ballot reflects the deep concern that our members have over government ministers’ proposals for their pensions.
“Yesterday’s statement in parliament was a marked improvement on earlier proposals.
“But, it is important to understand that the statement has to be translated into offers in the scheme specific talks. We still have had no offer in those negotiations, where such an offer can legitimately be made.
“We support the TUC day of action on 30 November, but will be negotiating right up to then and beyond to get a fair deal for our members.
“Senior lay officials of the union are meeting throughout the afternoon to discuss the latest government statement on pensions and to decide what action to take as a result of the strike ballot.”
Further negotiations are set to take place between union representatives and government departments on the renewed government deal.
Chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander yesterday said the deal would only be open if an agreement was reached by the end of the year. HSJ understands unions see it as “setting the scene” but a long way from a position to which they would be happy to sign up.
They are likely to continue to argue against any rise in contribution rates.
It is not widely expected that many managers will choose to strike, however they may support the action in other ways.
MiP chief executive Jon Restell said of the offer: “It’s very helpful, although it’s a bit late. It certainly won’t be enough to change the 30 November dynamic.” He added: “Each manager will make up their minds about what to do.”
He said members who chose not to strike might like to consider alternatives such as sacrificing some of their pay to support the campaign, joining lunchtime protests or writing letters to MPs.
MiP will issue a letter regarding managers’ roles in contingency planning for industrial action over the coming week.
Few employment lawyers approached by HSJ in recent weeks have said they have received substantial queries from NHS trusts regarding staffing contingency arrangements in the event of a strike.
However, it is likely that operations will need to be cancelled and some services will operate with scaled-down staffing.
HSJ understands one option available to neighbouring trusts would be to pool staff and divert patients to one site, in order to keep a service running.
However, trusts are not legally able to use agency workers to cover striking employees.
Some health unions, including the Royal College of Nursing and the British Medical Association, decided not to ballot members on industrial action. But HSJ has previously reported on trusts’ fears that staff may refuse to cover their striking colleagues.