Civil service graduates on the fast stream will consider strike action in an unprecedented move over frustration with low pay.
About 900 civil servants on the scheme are being balloted for strikes, with 81% backing industrial action at the consultative stage held by the FDA union for senior civil servants.
The FDA said fast stream graduates were not a usual demographic to ballot for strikes but they were “so poorly paid they are skipping meals and relying on family to get by”.
It comes after 100,000 members of the PCS union for civil servants across 214 government departments and other public bodies voted to take strike action over pay, pensions, job security and cuts to redundancy terms.
Staff at Border Force, the Home Office, the Department for Work and Pensions and National Highways are just some of the civil servants planning to strike over Christmas.
The fast stream is a competitive graduate route of entry to the civil service, with mostly young and keen applicants, making the decision to proceed to a strike ballot unusual. Its starting salary is about £27,000 to £28,000, with earning potential on completion of up to £55,000.
Lauren Crowley, the FDA national officer for the fast stream, said the starting salary for civil servants joining the scheme had risen by only 3.7% in 12 years, while in the Cabinet Office, equivalent roles had risen by more than 15%.
“We have long been clear that structural reform of fast stream pay was essential to ensuring a fair deal for fast streamers. Yet the Cabinet Office refused and instead offered just a 3% pay increase, which was rejected by 95% of our members. Once again, our members are left with just sympathetic words and a promise of jam tomorrow while facing a real-terms pay cut,” she said.
Dave Penman, the FDA general secretary, said the dispute over pay for fast stream civil servants was exacerbated by the current cost of living crisis but had been going on for much longer.
“For too long, the high application rate for the fast stream has been used as a reason to suppress pay, while the admirable commitment of fast streamers to delivering public services has been continually exploited,” he said.
“As a result, a group of the most talented and motivated civil servants, many at the start of their careers, are so disgruntled that they are contemplating what many would have thought unthinkable – strike action in the fast stream.”
A government spokesperson said: “We value the work of fast streamers in the civil service and we are reviewing their pay terms as we have previously committed to. This work is ongoing.
“Industrial action should always be a last resort, and we urge the unions to recognise what is reasonable and affordable as the whole country faces these cost of living challenges as a result of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
“Discussions will continue, but we can provide reassurance that we have comprehensive plans in place to keep essential services running and to minimise disruption if strikes do go ahead.”