Some 150,000 civil servants could strike this summer after the Public and Commercial Services trade union voted to ballot its members on industrial action over pay.
PCS hopes the forthcoming ballot will provide leverage in its negotiations with the government on lifting the 1% public sector pay cap for government workers.
The union made the decision to ballot members at its annual conference in Brighton this week, and will decide on a timeline in the coming days.
A consultative ballot on pay last year found that 80% of PCS members would be prepared to strike if government fails to scrap the public sector pay cap.
The 1% cap has been in place since 2012, and it followed a two-year pay freeze across the public sector. The Treasury has indicated that the cap will be lifted and cap-busting rises have been offered to police officers (2%) and prison officers (1.7%), but these must be paid for from within existing budgets.
NHS staff have been handed a 6.5% increase over three years, with additional funding, in exchange for improvements in productivity.
Civil servants working for the Scotland Government have been offered at least a 4% pay rise for the majority of staff – and 12% for some – but discussions on government pay between the Cabinet Office and trade unions in Westminster are ongoing.
PCS said a vote in favour could see 150,000 staff in the civil service and related areas walk out this summer, possibly for “sustained strike action”.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “Our members deserve a fair pay rise to make up for years of pay restraint. But we have been told there is only 1% in the budget for pay unlike other parts of the public sector. This is a disgraceful way for the government to treat its own workforce.
“Theresa May should be under no illusion. If her ministers do not fully fund a fair pay increase, we will be consulting our members on serious sustained strike action”.
He told the conference that a strong mandate for industrial action would “change the nature of talks” with the Cabinet Office almost immediately.
Also at the conference, a motion was put forward to survey members on their experience of sexual harassment in the civil service. It was prompted by the results of HMRC’s latest staff survey, which suggested that harassment could be a serious hidden issue at the tax agency and across the civil service, the union said.
Another motion passed at the conference formally stated its intention to support the election of a Labour government, led by Jeremy Corbyn.
The motion which was passed overwhelmingly called on the union to “develop an effective political strategy for the next general election that involves advancing our industrial agenda through national union support for a Corbyn-led Labour government".
Serwotka highlighted Labour’s pledge to return to national pay bargaining in the civil service and related bodies as the reason for the decision. PCS, which has never affiliated with the Labour party, said the move to formally campaign for the party was a significant shift in approach.