The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is sending out ballot papers to nurses asking whether they are ready to support industrial action in the row over pay.
Around 200,000 RCN members in England will be asked their views after the government announced earlier this year it is to hand out a 2.5% pay award in stages.
It offered nurses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland a 1.5% pay rise in April, followed by a further 1% rise in November.
But the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have approved moves to pay the rise in one go.
Nurses in England are still being offered the staggered deal, which equates to a 1.9% increase over the year.
The RCN believes that the government will save £60m by awarding the rise in increments.
But if nurses stop working unpaid overtime, the NHS will need to provide cover through agency or bank nurses, and that will cost around £13m every week.
Dr Peter Carter, general secretary of the RCN, said: "Nurses are not demanding sky high, inflation-busting increases in their pay, just the 2.5% an independent review body said they should receive.
"Now they have the chance to send a clear message to ministers that nurses deserve fair pay, not the pay cut in instalments the government is proposing."
A Department of Health (DH) spokesman said: "The government has been committed to ensuring NHS staff are better paid and has already announced the pay award for health professionals in England - a fair award reflecting the balance between the right level of pay and the need to be vigilant against the threats of inflation."
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"I feel that we have been used as doormats for long enough, it's time we 'shocked' the government and the public by doing something unheard of for nurses which is to take industrial action. The current pay structures do not allow nurses to live independently. Housing and the cost of living generally continues to rise, but our pay does not keep pace with this. Nurses are leaving the service in large numbers, we are now seeing cuts in nurse education. Where will the nurses of the future come from if they do not appear to be valued professionals?' - Lesley Weston, Norfolk
"The job has become ever harder as "progress" evolves. Bogged down by administrative work and target figures nurses have more than complied. It's time to stand up and be counted now. We deserve decent pay for a job excellently done" - Marie Bent, Birmingham
"Some sort of industrial action is required" - Lesley Sheils, Edinburgh
"Having been a nurse since 1979, for the first time ever I feel it is time to strike and stand up for fair pay for nurses. We all complain, take on more responsibility and work harder when some Doctors do less and earn more - enough!" - Jennie McKay, London
"Those of us who are not NHS employees (most practice nurses) probably won't get a pay rise anyway" - Kate, Essex
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