The Prospect union is polling civil servants on whether they want to take strike action over pay, staffing and redundancy terms.
The indicative online ballot, which will be held from 8 November to 5 December, will test members’ willingness to take strike action and action short of strike. This could later lead to a formal ballot on taking industrial action.
In a notice to members on its website, Prospect said civil service staff are under “unparalleled attack” and, “if these attacks are not challenged, they will only increase and intensify”.
PCS, another union representing civil servants, is currently balloting its members on taking strike action over similar concerns. Unlike Prospect, this is a formal ballot which would directly lead to industrial action if members vote for it.
Prospect will ballot members who work in departments where pay deals have not been reached and asking them to vote "yes" to strike action and action short of strike action. This will include departments such as the Cabinet Office, Home Office and Department for Work and Pensions but does not include the Ministry of Defence, which is still locked in pay talks with unions.
The union said the government had failed recognise the impact of inflation – which is currently at 10.1% – on civil servants when offering average pay rises of 2-3% this year. It also warned of reports that pay increases could be capped even lower next year.
Prospect also raised concern about plans to worsen redundancy terms and looming departmental budget cuts at a time when soaring inflation has seen the real-terms value of departments' budgets fall.
The chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, will unveil a new budget on November 17, and is reportedly looking to fill a £50bn black hole in government finances through a combination of 50% tax rises and 50% public spending cuts.
Prospect said the government “wants to make it cheaper to get rid of staff whilst at the same time imposing savage real terms reductions on budgets which will lead to inevitable cuts to staffing numbers”.
“While the union has made every effort to engage with the UK government and individual employers, we believe we are at a stage where our members living standards, job security and terms and conditions are under unparalleled attack,” the union said.
“In the face of soaring inflation, the government announcement that they would not increase the funding levels for public sector organisations, and more recently that they are looking for more real terms cuts, has only increased our concerns on pay and job losses."
Although prime minister Rishi Sunak this week scrapped plans to cut 91,000 civil service jobs in the next three years, Prospect said “very significant” job losses are nevertheless “inevitable” due to the government’s imminent proposals to reduce public spending.
Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy said: “Our public service members face a three pronged attack on their work and living standards – a pay rise capped at 3% despite double digit inflation, the threat of redundancy as budgets are cut, and an attempt to slash redundancy terms.
“If these are allowed to go ahead our members will suffer as they won’t be able to pay their bills and they may lose their jobs. Even if they don’t lose them their ability to do those jobs will be hugely impacted by increased workloads and increased pressure.
"The public at large will also see a huge impact with vital services simply disappearing at a time of national crisis.
"Industrial action is always a last resort, but in the face of these challenges we have no option but to seek the views of our members. If the government does not change tack then the civil service as we know it faces an existential threat."
A Government spokesperson said: “We are fully committed to our engagement with staff and unions. Industrial action should always be a last resort and we are working to minimise any potential disruptions to ensure the civil service continues to deliver public services with value for money to the taxpayer."
Which departments will be balloted?
Civil servants at the following departments will be balloted:
Department for Business, Environment and Industrial Strategy; Cabinet Office; Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (core staff); Department for Transport (core staff); Department for Health and Social Care; Department for International Trade; Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities; Department for Work and Pensions; Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office; Forestry Commission; Government Actuary's Department; Home Office; The National Archives.
Prospect will also ballot members at government agencies including:
Animal and Plant Health Agency; Care Quality Commission; Defence Science and Technology Laboratory; Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency; Food Standards Agency; Health & Safety Executive; Insolvency Service; Marine Management Organisation; Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency; Met Office; UK Health and Security Agency; Valuation Office Agency; UK Intellectual Property Office; Valuation Office Agency; Vehicle Certification Agency.