Primark staff in Northern Ireland have overwhelmingly backed industrial action in protest at the retailer’s attempt to impose a second year of pay freezes.

Usdaw, which represents 641 workers in Primark’s eight Northern Irish stores,said 93% of its members voted in favour of taking industrial action.

The result mirrors the outcome of a consultative ballot held in December 2011, in which 95% of members voted to reject the company’s pay freeze.

Usdaw representatives at Primark will now meet next week to decide on the form and timing of any industrial action, which is likely to start sometime in February.

The trade union has informed Primark of the ballot result and urged the retailer to return to the negotiating table to avoid what it said would be a “costly and damaging dispute”.

Staff at the retailer’s Northern Ireland business agreed to accept a pay freeze in 2010 following lengthy negotiations that involved the Labour Relations Agency (LRA). However, Primark’s refusal to offer staff a pay rise this year stimulated calls for a strike.

Usdaw area organiser Nicola Scarborough said:”Most of our members at Primark earn just £6.84 an hour and they are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. With prices continuing to rise and government cuts to tax credits and other benefits beginning to bite, most people simply can’t afford to accept what is effectively a pay cut for the second year running.”

“There is no question of Primark being unable to afford a rise. Sales at the company continue to increase by double digits and in the past two years Primark has made profits of £644m. It’s time for Primark to recognise the exceptional contribution its staff are making to this success.”

Primark revealed sales soared 16% year-on-year over its festive trading period.