Unite, which represents workers in higher education, are balloting members at several universities for strike action in a dispute over a real terms pay cut.
Unite is currently balloting its members at Bristol, Glasgow, Leeds and Sussex universities, with other institutions also possibly being added to the action.
The ballots will be completed by mid-November, with strike action pencilled in for late November. The University and Colleges Union (UCU) and public services union Unison are also balloting their members at these universities.
A two per cent pay increase for university staff, which is well below the current retail price index (RPI) inflation rate of 3.3 per cent, was imposed on workers in August.
There is growing anger among university staff about pay. University staff have experienced year on year real terms pay cuts which have seen their pay cut in real terms by 21 per cent since 2009.
Unite believes that a pay increase at least in line with inflation is eminently affordable as universities have seen a 33 per cent increase in income in the last five years. While operating surpluses have increased by 177 per cent and reserves are up by 259 per cent.
Unite members working in universities tend to undertake roles including lab technicians, office and admin staff, security staff, estates staff and cleaners. Most Unite workers earn between £20,000-£30,000 a year and they form part of the squeezed middle of the pay spine.
If strike action occurs then the targeted universities will almost certainly be forced to close, disrupting lectures and teaching.
Unite national officer for education Siobhan Endean said, “University staff have had enough. They are being forced to take on extra work, work harder for less pay and are struggling to make ends meet.
“Universities can afford to give workers a decent pay rise which would begin to tackle the pay cuts that workers have suffered over the past decade but have chosen not to do so.
“University management have invested heavily in new facilities and should also invest in the people responsible for keeping the lights on and the institutions functioning.
“While Unite recognises that strike action will cause widespread disruption at the targeted universities, this dispute can be resolved by the University Employers (UCEA) returning to the negotiating table with an offer of a pay increase rather than a pay cut.”