Birmingham Airport workers who have not had a pay rise for three years are set to ballot for industrial action as the go-ahead has finally been given for its runway extension.

Frustrated airport employees voted by a margin of more than 81 per cent for action over the long-running pay freeze.

Salary talks for around 500 workers, including non-union members, have collapsed with no offer of any rise for staff whose wages have been frozen since February 2009.

The new ballot could see disruption at the airport by mid-April, as the complex gears up for the holiday season. A total of 292 ballot papers were sent out, 164 were returned, and 134 rejected the pay freeze.

Airport chief executive Paul Kehoe, who earned £384,000 in the year to March, has now pledged to withdraw an offer of more talks for a rise from April 1 if the threat of industrial action is not dropped.

But the deadlock was inflamed still further by a blog by Mr Kehoe, in which he drew analogies with the Second World War, the US Cavalry and Winston Churchill.

He said in his posting: “During the last world war and times of strife, the protagonists spent a lot of time, effort and money on propaganda.

“If we run out of money by making losses, there is no US Cavalry over the hill that will come in and rescue us.”

However, Mr Kehoe also said that those who suggested the airport was making big profits when they offered just a half a per cent return to investors who had put in £900 million “would be laughed all the way to the bank”.

In a newsletter to workers, Unite union regional officers Peter Coulson and John Partridge said: “The CE refers in his blog to Winston Churchill, the last war and football results/Match of the Day.

“It is totally inappropriate to relate the 2011 pay review with any of the above. It appears the CE has lost control of reality.

“Amazingly in the blog it does not refer to the root cause – that there has been no pay increase in three years.” The ballot process is expected to take up to seven weeks, to mid-April.

Speaking after the announcement of the ballot, Mr Kehoe questioned the numbers who voted. “They issued 292 ballot papers and we have only got 200 odd members on the payroll.

"I am not saying that there has been any falsification of papers but we have asked the union to cleanse their numbers and make sure that the right people voted. This is devil-making in my opinion.”

He said any industrial action would have no impact on the airport. “We have put contingency plans in place and have enough volunteers to cover.”

The airport also announed that shareholders had now signed off the business case ffor the £65 million runway extension that will allow planes to fly direct to China and the east coast of the US.