Unison has agreed to put an emergency motion calling for a ballot on industrial action to its annual health conference, which will be held in Brighton in two weeks’ time.

The union is angry that the government has ignored the recommendations of its own Pay Review Body and limited the award of a 1% pay increase to staff who do not get automatic, “progression in job” increases.

The pay review body had called for a 1% increase for all staff covered by the Agenda for Change pay system from 1 April, and for a similar increase in the supplements paid to staff living in high cost areas.

However, health secretary Jeremy Hunt said this would be “unaffordable” and would “risk the quality of patient care” because job numbers would have to be cut to fund it.

The decision was also welcomed by NHS Employers. The NHS is trying to meet the ‘Nicholson Challenge’ to save £20 billion by 2015 to meet the gap between flat funding and rising demand.

So far, most of the savings that have been made have come from holding down management numbers and squeezing pay.

However, Unison argues it is not fair to deny two-thirds of those working in the NHS a pay increase, or to fail to make the NHS a Living Wage employer. Previously, it has also pointed out that holding down pay in the public sector is likely to depress the whole economy.

Health secretary Christina McAnea, said the health executive’s decision to put a strike call motion to the conference was “a significant step towards a summer, and indeed winter, of unrest for the NHS” and urged the government to “pull back from the brink” and think again.