Nearly 96 per cent of the membership voted to allow limited disruption - comfortably ahead of the two-thirds majority required by the college.
The announcement came at the end of an emotional extraordinary general meeting of the RCN at Westminster's QE2 centre and was greeted by cheers and a standing ovation from the 250 nurses who attended. Only one nurse spoke against.
Christine Hancock, general secretary of the college, said it was a "very clear and very strong result", but again emphasised her organisation's differences with 20 other health unions.
While other employees' representatives are planning ballots on nationwide industrial action in protest at local pay, the RCN envisages only local disruption, she made clear. "In the new world of the NHS nurses have voted to have a choice about taking limited industrial action at local level." She also stressed that there would be "no move from the centre" to organise action in the present pay dispute.
Nurses have been offered a 1 per cent national increase with up to 2 per cent more to be negotiated locally. The RCN is prepared to sign local deals as soon as 300 out of 500 NHS trusts offer 3 per cent "without strings". The college argument is that as soon as the "critical mass" is achieved, other trusts will then be forced to follow suit and a de facto national deal will have been created. Other unions are planning a national campaign against local pay and have set their face against signing any agreements with individual trusts.
In a turnout of 39 per cent - comparatively large for a postal vote - 99,760 RCN members voted for the change with 5,529 against.
Ms Hancock said there was no question of RCN members taking action which would harm patients. College strategists believe it is possible to disrupt the new NHS internal market through a refusal to complete paperwork.Reuse content