Workers across Scotland could take part in the largest wave of strikes ever to hit the country’s National Health Service after a pay deal with the Scottish Government was overwhelmingly rejected.
NHS staff were offered a 5% pay rise despite rates of inflation expected to hit double that later in the year.
The Unite union said 77% of its members had already backed strikes in a consultative ballot, while those represented by the GMB, UNISON and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) are all considering industrial action.
Midwives and maternity support workers have threatened to strike over the pay offer, the Royal College of Midwives has said, while workers at Carstairs State Hospital have also overwhelming knocked back the new terms.
It could mean staff shortages already hitting the service will be exacerbated in the autumn, with planned strikes likely to take place in September and October.
Unite said 89% of its members across every pay band had voted against the wage increase, while 77% had backed action.
UNISON is to host a ballot of its 50,000 members from October 3, while 97% of those represented by the GMB also voted against the deal and the RCN is to host a strike vote between September 15 and October 13.
Shirley Robertson, specialist community public health nurse at NHS Forth Valley, said: “I hope it sends a strong message to the Scottish Government that we feel undervalued, we feel underpaid and it’s not good enough.
“Our patients are the most important thing to us. But people are burnt out, they are fed up, especially after the last two years, we are bleeding experienced staff and that is not good enough.
“Colleagues will take their annual leave so they don’t have to put petrol in their car. People have to think very carefully, but for some people, it’s financially unsustainable to continue working for the NHS and that is really, really sad, it saddens us.
Unite regional officer James O’Connell said the Scottish Government underspend of £650m on the NHS should be used to fund a revised pay offer.
He added: “The mandate to move to an industrial action ballot from our NHS Scotland members is emphatic.
“These hard working and courageous workers really deserve far more from the Scottish Government. Instead, they are being forced into a position whereby the only way they are going to get a decent pay rise is through strike action.
“This situation is exclusively down to the Scottish Government because they are also hoarding a £650m underspend. Yet for some reason they deem our brave NHS workers unworthy of anything from this treasure chest.”
Julie Lamberth, chair of RCN Scotland board, said: “In all my years in nursing I have never known such strength of determination amongst nursing staff.
“The current pay offer would do nothing to help us with the rising cost of living. We need to stand up for fair pay to recruit or retain more nursing staff where we work and to keep patients safe.”
It is the latest threat of post-pandemic strike action to hit the public sector during a summer of discontent that has already brought chaos to Scotland’s public transport network.
Waste workers in more than 20 local authorities, including Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow, will also walk out in August over a “derisory” pay deal.
Matt McLaughlin, UNISON Scotland head of health called on the First Minister to intervene and avoid strikes.
He said: “This is the first time since devolution that NHS workers have been balloted for strike over pay, the First Minister must step in now to ensure that UNISON members get a fair deal on pay and that we avoid the need for workplace stoppages as we approach the winter.”
The Scottish Government hailed the pay offer as a “record deal” when details were first announced in June.
The deal would have been backdated to April 1 2022, with staff receiving an additional £1,000 to £2,400 a year depending on their role and experience following a 4% increase last year.
But medics have been near-unanimous in their assertion that it did not go far enough.
Health secretary Humza Yousaf said: “While we respect the mandate given to trade unions, I am disappointed they have voted to reject the record 5% pay deal for NHS Scotland Agenda for Change (AfC) staff, and are now holding ballots for industrial action.
“We will consider the next steps and look to re-engage with trade unions as soon as we can, and hope to reach a satisfactory outcome.”