Pay discussions have been unsuccessful and there is no incentive for newly qualified staff to stay.
According to the college, there is a “sense of disillusionment and even anger among RCN members” in Northern Ireland as chronic understaffing puts additional strain on staff and pay continues to fall behind England, Scotland and Wales.
The announcement comes at a time when there are nearly 3,000 unfilled nursing posts across the system, with a similar level of vacancies estimated in nursing homes.
The real value of nurses’ pay in Northern Ireland has fallen by 15% over the last eight years, whilst the cost of securing nursing staff via nursing agencies has increased year on year.
The ballot over industrial action will allow also members to decide if they are prepared to walk out in any proposed strike action.
‘Staff can no longer continue to work under the current conditions’.
Pat Cullen, Director of the RCN in Northern Ireland, said: “The time has come when our members are saying clearly to us that they can no longer continue to work under the current conditions.
“The palpable sense of disillusionment and even anger among RCN members in Northern Ireland over staffing and pay continues to grow. As a result, the RCN UK Council has today endorsed a timetable and process, recommended by the RCN Northern Ireland Board, to ballot members working within HSC services in relation to industrial action, including strike action.
“We all know that nurses in Northern Ireland can go anywhere in the world to work. To date, pay discussions have been unsuccessful and there is now nothing to keep our newly-qualified nurses at home. As a profession, we are no longer prepared to tolerate the risk that low staffing levels pose to patients, nursing staff, and the people of Northern Ireland.
“No nurse that I know would ever want to take industrial action but we have simply been left with no choice – it’s a sad day for nursing in Northern Ireland when it has come to this.”