Details of the vote came as it emerged that the man responsible for deciding the nurses' 1 per cent pay rise will earn £57,000 a year for a new, three-day-week job.
Mike Bett, chairman of the Nurses and Midwives Pay Review Body, has been appointed as head of a watchdog looking at changes in the Civil Service. His appointment has prompted claims of "jobs for the boys" and increased the sense of outrage felt by nurses and midwives over their treatment.
The Royal College of Midwives will now go to the next stage in their battle with the Government over pay and will ballot members formally on taking industrial action.
Julia Allison, general secretary of the royal college, said yesterday: "Never in its history has the college been so close to industrial action."
Disclosing that 82 per cent of members had voted in favour of changing the constitution to allow for strikes, she said: "I make this announcement with a heavy heart, as I know that many of the RCM members voted with the same feeling.
"We find ourselves on a path which is not of our choosing, and firmly put the blame on the Government's shoulders."
The ballot is the second on industrial action in 10 days. In the first, midwives indicated what they would be prepared to do: 20 per cent would strike but more favoured less extreme actions. In the vote, 78 per cent said they would work to grade, 75 per cent wanted an overtime ban; 72 per cent a withdrawal of goodwill; 70 per cent would refuse to do administrative duties; 67 per cent favoured working to rule and 53 per cent opted partial withdrawal of labour.
However, Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, urged midwives to think again. "I hope they will think long and hard about it. There is no place in the NHS for industrial action," she said.
"In the last six years nurses and midwives have seen their salaries increase by 78 per cent compared to 52 per cent general increase in remuneration I. . . The Government wants nurses and midwives to negotiate pay packages with their local trusts of up to 3 per cent."
Midwives want to see a pay increase of 3 per cent across the country, funded centrally instead of the Government proposal of 1 per cent with an additional 0.5 to 2 per cent to be negotiated locally.
They argue that their anger is over more than pay. More than 200 midwives had been downgraded and suffered pay cuts of up to £3,000 a year.
Ms Allison said that 16,000 midwives voted in the first ballot - a turnout of 53 per cent. She was sure members would vote for industrial action in their fight for "justice".Reuse content