Staff at exam board AQA are to stage a 72-hour walkout over pay which union leaders warn could affect the delivery of thousands of GCSE and A-level results.
Members of Unison will walk out for three days, from Friday July 29 to Sunday July 31.
The union warned industrial action is likely to escalate unless talks are reopened.
Many of the staff involved say they are struggling to make ends meet following successive below-inflation pay awards, Unison said.
Staff were given an increase of 0.6% last year, with 3% offered this year, which Unison said is a real-terms pay cut.
Unison official Lizanne Devonport said the workers have been left with “no other option” but to strike.
“Pay has been falling behind prices for years and 3% isn’t a wage rise, with costs spiralling it’s a pay cut,” she said.
“Things are so bad staff are fearful they will no longer be able to make ends meet.
“Workers only strike as a last resort. They’d rather be doing the jobs that they’re proud of. They don’t want to disrupt students and know how important exam results are to them.”
The AQA workers involved in the dispute work in England.
One told Unison: “The wider public don’t necessarily get to see the work that goes on behind the scenes, but we delivered an exemplary service that was required even during the pandemic, and don’t think that is being fairly rewarded. We don’t want to disadvantage candidates. We value them and want them to succeed, but we have been trying to get a fair deal for months and have not been listened to.”
Another said: “We’re being pressured to sign a contract without knowing what’s in it. AQA isn’t even prepared to come back to the table to negotiate. It’s making me want to leave. AQA doesn’t care about the well-being of its staff. The strike will hurt me financially but I’m willing to do that because this deal is so poor.”
An AQA spokesperson said: “Our priority is always to make sure students get the results they deserve on time – and we have robust plans in place to make sure any strike action won’t affect that.
“It’s a shame that Unison is claiming otherwise, as this is wrong and only serves needlessly to alarm students and teachers.
“We’re giving our people a pay rise that’s affordable and higher than many organisations, so it’s disappointing that Unison has decided to take strike action.
“The vast majority of our staff don’t support a strike, as only around 5% of our workforce and well under half of Unison’s own members voted for it.
“Indeed, nearly nine out of 10 of our staff have already opted into our new pay framework and agreed to the pay rise, including many Unison members, so it’s hard to see what this strike is trying to achieve.”
AQA said the average pay increase will be 5.6%, comprised of 3% for all staff, a pro-rata payment of £500 and, for any staff not currently at the top of their pay grades, an incremental increase.
AQA said it was their biggest pay increase for at least a couple of decades, adding that staff who earn the least will see the highest percentage increases to their pay.