Thousands of health workers will vote on whether to protest over the government's ‘contemptuous behaviour’ on NHS pay from today.
The ballot will run until 26 September, to determine whether the members will strike this autumn over a pay offer which has been deemed "insulting".
Unite joins other health unions in making a "major stand" on pay. Figures released by the union estimate that 1.3 million workers in the NHS have seen their pay fall by up to 15% in real terms since the coalition came to power in May 2010.
Unite head of health Rachael Maskell said: “Never have our members expressed such anger as they have on the pay issue. Jeremy Hunt has treated these hard working health professionals with contempt.
“Our members have an opportunity from today to vote in favour of industrial action and send a stark message that the health secretary should sit down with the unions and listen to our proposals for fair pay for the biggest workforce in the UK.
“We are confident of a positive result from our members. But we also wish to reassure the public that any industrial action will be carefully calibrated to balance the anger that our members feel about their shrinking pay packets, with abiding concern for patient care which is key for the health professionals we represent.”
In England, there was a 1% pay offer which meant that 600,000 NHS employees received no cost of living pay rise on 1 April 2014.
In Wales, the devolved government has agreed to a ‘living wage’ for all staff and an imposed one-off payment of £160, however, there is a wider dispute on terms and conditions. In Northern Ireland, there has been no decision made on pay.
In Scotland, the devolved government has agreed to pay the 1% pay rise to all staff as recommended by the independent Pay Review Body (PRB) and to implement the ‘living wage’ by paying an extra £300 to low paid workers. Unite has accepted this and will, therefore, not be balloting its members in Scotland.