Staff at Teddington’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL) may go on strike after they were refused a pay rise.

Prospect, the union representing specialists at the Hampton Road laboratory, is to hold a vote on industrial action after members were told by operating company Serco they were being offered a “pay pause”.

Earlier this year, it was announced 24 jobs would be axed at NPL amid cuts by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the major customer of the labs.

Twickenham MP Vince Cable held a parliamentary debate to oppose the cuts after it was originally feared up to 60 jobs could go - but in the end less than a third of the 24 job losses were compulsory.

Dr Cable said: “In view of the size of cuts taking place in the department it was unlikely that NPL would escape.

“However, by raising awareness of the important work done by NPL, and the need for early consultation, we hope that bigger cuts will be avoided in the future.”

Prospect negotiations officer Bob King criticised Serco - which is said to be valued at £2.7bn and recently announced record profits up 34 per cent to £194.7m - for not attempting to stop the redundancies.

Mr King said: “Quite frankly, the diminishing commitment shown by Serco to the future of NPL is causing grave concern. It made no effort to try and stop the recent redundancies, which saw the loss of highly skilled staff and left remaining staff demoralised and fearful over the laboratory’s future.

“Added to a slow dilution of time and attention shown to NPL by the Serco hierarchy, employees are faced with a ‘pay pause’ despite increased living costs of around 3.7 per cent and at a time when the parent company is enjoying massive profits.

“To axe jobs and then hit the salaries of those left will further undermine confidence and see more people rush for the door.

“If Serco persists with this pay freeze it will make a mockery of promises they made after securing the management contract in 2003.

“We look to Serco and the NPL board to think again about their staff and come up with a sensible response to genuine concerns.”

An NPL spokeswoman said: “Like all parts of the public sector, the National Physical Laboratory has to keep its costs under constant review, particularly in the face of enormous pressure on public finances.

“We have been subject to government cuts and had to make a small number of redundancies.

“We are in ongoing discussions with staff and the union on a number of related issues, including pay and the potential for an award recognising good performance, and hope to find a way forward that avoids the need for any form of industrial action.”