More than 2,000 employees at a Midland university are poised for “unprecedented” strike action in a bitter row over pay.

Unison members at the University of Birmingham are being balloted over industrial action. The dispute centres around pay negotiations for the 2,150 support staff workers employed at the institution.

The union has been in a formal dispute with the university since last December over pay rates. It says it may be ‘forced’ into calling the first strike at the university for 30 years.

University top brass said they were ‘disappointed’ by the announcement, as all other staff groups had accepted a pay settlement offer.

Dawn Sant, regional organiser for Unison, said: “We consulted with our members extensively and they feel they have been forced into a ballot situation by the University of Birmingham.

“There are other universities who have given two per cent to their lowest paid, which is moving more towards a living wage for staff.

“The vast majority of universities also pay allowances for evening and weekend work, which isn’t applicable to the majority of the lowest paid members at Birmingham. This also impacts on pay.

“The university needs to recognise that whether someone is on a band 100 – a wage of £13,294 – or the salary of the vice-chancellor they all have to pay the same for a loaf of bread and bottle of milk, pay their rent, mortgage and ever-increasing utility bills.

“The cost of basic food and childcare is increasing rapidly but wages are not keeping up.”

The union claims pay for support staff has deteriorated in real terms every year since 2009.

It fears working parents could be forced to leave their jobs if support staff incomes are reduced.

A university spokesman said: “The university regrets that Unison members are being balloted to take strike action over the 2011 pay settlement – an increase on all support staff pay points of 1.2 per cent or £250, whichever is greater – particularly as all other staff groups have now accepted the offer.”