The Public and Commercial Services union has put the Equality and Human Rights Commission on notice that it faces strikes if further cuts go ahead.
PCS, which represents almost three quarters of the 190 staff at the agency, will be launching an industrial action ballot alongside sister union Unite.
It comes as senior politicians up the pressure on the EHRC, with Labour MP Jack Dromey writing a detailed letter to the organisation’s chair setting out his concerns.
While the final budget for the next four years is yet to be announced, commission staff have been told to expect a 25% cut and threatened with compulsory redundancies, having already suffered a 70% cut in funding since 2010.
Nineteen of the first 26 posts due to be axed are held by staff in the three lowest paid grades, meaning the government body responsible for protecting vulnerable workers is itself disproportionately targeting older, ethnic minority and disabled staff.
The commission is also refusing to consider alternative sources of savings, including the high cost of employing non-payroll consultants – with almost £1.2 million last year paid to just eight staff.
The cuts would mean fewer caseworkers supporting victims of discrimination, the closure of offices in Birmingham, Leeds, Edinburgh and Newcastle, and could threaten the agency’s United Nations ‘A’ status as a national human rights institution.
In his letter, also copied to EHRC board members, Mr Dromey echoes the unions’ concerns this would seriously undermine EHRC’s ability to effectively challenge hate crime at a time when police report it is on the rise in the wake of the Brexit vote.
Mr Dromey writes: “The impact of these cuts will be felt particularly hard by victims of discrimination or human rights abuses who don’t qualify for legal aid, can’t afford tribunal fees, aren’t a member of a trade union, and whose local law centre or [Citizens Advice office] has closed.”
His letter adds: “It is shameful that ministers are stripping those without power of the ability to challenge the powerful when they are victims of discrimination or the denial of human rights.”
He calls on the board to speak out “in no uncertain terms” that it will not “preside over the slow dismantling of that which is key to the cause of equality and human rights in our country”.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “While the commission spends hundreds of thousands of pounds on highly paid consultants it is deplorable that it is planning to sack low paid staff who provide daily support to victims of discrimination.
“These cuts are a perfect symbol of Tory policies that undermine basic but essential help to those who need it most in our society.”