Nurses at this year's RCN Congress voted overwhelmingly to ballot on industrial action if the government did not reverse its decision to stage this year's pay award.
Meanwhile, Unison's annual health conference voted to ballot on industrial action if the government did not increase the pay award to all health workers to ‘significantly' above the rate of inflation.
The Independent Pay Review Body recommended that nurses receive a 2.5 per cent pay increase this year. However, the chancellor Gordon Brown is widely believed to have intervened and decided to stage the award so nurses receive a 1.5 per cent rise this month with another 1 per cent rise in November. The Scottish Executive has given the pay award in full from this month.
Nurses at both conferences denounced the chancellor's actions, which are being seen as an attempt to control the rising rate of inflation.
Unison and the RCN will now seek urgent meetings with health secretary Patricia Hewitt and both have promised a ballot will only occur if all other negotiations fail.
The RCN also intends to write to every MP and all representatives in the Scottish Parliament and Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies to ask for their position on the pay dispute. Their responses will be published on the RCN website.
Unison delegate and nurse at University College Hospitals, London Janet Maiden said if the government refused nurses' demands it should expect a ‘summer of discontent'.
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