Nurses and other healthcare workers are among more than one million public sector workers who are going to be asked to vote on taking industrial action in a bid to protect their pensions.

Unison, which represents about 460,000 health workers, and Unite, which includes the Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association, have both announced today they will be balloting their members.

Speaking at the Trades Union Congress conference of most major British unions, Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said the ballot was “unprecedented in scale” and warned they would be giving formal notice to 9,000 employers including hospitals, schools and councils.

Unite and the GMB followed suit and said they would would also ballot their 250,000 and 300,000 respective public sector members for industrial action in “defence of public service pensions”.

A Unite spokesman clarified that the unions will be holding ballots “for actual industrial action on the basis that the talks have broken down”, and it will not be an indicative, or consultative, ballot.

The government wants to increase pension contributions by an average of 3.2 per cent over three years, starting in 2012. Although full time staff earning less than £15,000 would see no increase, employees earning more than £48,983 and £110,000 would see increases of between about 5 per cent and 6 per cent respectively.

The government have set a deadline for concluding negotiations of the end of October.

Mr Prentis told delegates he was prepared to negotiate “any time, anyplace, anywhere” but if the government imposed changes to public sector pension schemes by dictat the union would take industrial action.

Last month unions representing workers from across the NHS met to discuss potential coordinated action.

A spokeswoman for Unison said they also were still talking to non TUC members such as the RCN.

General secretary of the TUC Brendan Barber told the conference negotiation was his preferred path but it required “two willing partners” and the government had repeatedly disregarded workers concerns and refused to provide unions with information on the value of the pension scheme.

He said: “I remain fully committed to exhausting every possible negotiating opportunity to resolve this issue without the need for further, widespread industrial action, and we will be meeting ministers again next week, engaging in good faith in an effort to find a way forward.

“But ministers have to come to the table with new ideas, and in a new spirit, to give those talks a chance to succeed. But if those talks cannot make a breakthrough unions are right and fully justified to plan for action.”

Unions representing public sector workers met this morning to discuss plans for coordinated industrial action. An announcement from the TUC this evening said they planned to hold a “first day of action” on Wednesday, 30 November. 

Mr Barber said: “Each union has been asked to consider taking what they judge to be the most appropriate form of action possible to show their support for this united campaign This would range from strike action, where ballot mandates have been secured from members and unions judge that appropriate, through to lunchtime meetings, rallies and joint events with community groups and service users.”