Hundreds of workers from the region's two largest universities could take to the picket line after voting to refuse a below-inflation pay rise.

Staff members of the University of East Anglia and Norwich University of the Arts have overwhelmingly voted to reject a three per cent pay rise offer from the University and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA).

Now, members of Unison are set to vote on whether to take industrial action over the offer, with union bosses arguing it is tantamount to a pay cut - given the current rate of inflation.

But the association has described the move as "disappointing".

Leon Kilbourn, regional organiser for Unison Eastern, said: "University staff have endured years of wage stagnation. With prices going through and inflation at an all-time high, a three per cent officer is a significant pay cut.

"No worker wants to go out on strike, but staff can't afford to feed their kids, pay for housing or fill up their petrol tanks.

"They are desperate for a wage increase that reflects the work they do to keep universities going and to make up for years of poverty pay.

"Employers must invest in staff or they'll leave the sector for better paid, less stressful jobs in retail or hospitality."

A strike ballot opened on July 22 and closes on August 26.

Should a strike go ahead, it would see university workers including administrators, cleaners, security and catering staff walk-out and take to the picket line.

Raj Jethwa, chief executive of UCEA, said β€œIt is disappointing that Unison fails to recognise that the uplift of up to nine per cent, for those on the lowest points of the pay spine, will include a significant proportion of its members.

"It is equally disappointing that Unison proceeded to issue statutory notices of ballots for industrial action prior to the completion of the dispute resolution meeting.”

The two organisations had been in negotiation since May, when an offer was made by the UCEA.

Nationally, 83pc of Unison members working in universities voted to turn down the offer, with more than 20,000 workers across 93 universities due to be balloted.