Second union could strike over railway station ticket office cuts

Station hosts could operate at locations across Sussex when ticket offices are shut outside of peak hours
Station hosts could operate at locations across Sussex when ticket offices are shut outside of peak hours

A second union could strike over cuts to railway station ticket office opening hours across Sussex.

Last week the RMT union said it would ballot its members this month over possible industrial action and today (Wednesday August 3) the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) announced it would also be balloting more than 250 station staff members over strike action.

We have tried to negotiate on these ideas but GTR just seem to be making it up as they go along

Manuel Cortes, leader of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association

The TSSA says that the cuts proposed by Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), which runs Southern, Thameslink and Gatwick Express services, will see 34 offices close, 49 open only during peak hours, and lead to 47 job losses.

But GTR called the union’s decision to ballot its members ‘pointless and ridiculous’.

TSSA leader Manuel Cortes said the two-week ballot would start next Wednesday (August 10), and any action in September would be co-ordinated with ‘our sister rail unions to maximise the impact’.

He added: “The GTR franchise has let down the travelling public and its staff and we would like to see it stripped of its franchise as soon as possible because it is no longer fit for purpose.

“Passengers may have to suffer short-term pain to see a long-term gain in the shape of new owners, hopefully Transport for London if ministers start seeing sense.”

As part of the proposals station hosts would operate on the concourse and a number of locations would only have their ticket office open from 7-10am from Monday to Friday, including Angmering, Barnham, Bexhill, Bognor Regis, Burgess Hill, Chichester, East Grinstead, Eastbourne, Hassocks, Horley, Horsham, Hove, Lewes, Littlehampton, Polegate, and Shoreham.

Crawley will be open from 8-11am, Portslade will be open from 8.55-10am, with Worthing open from 7.30-10.30am.

Meanwhile ticket offices would close completely at Falmer and Lancing.

The concept is due to be ‘soft launched’ at a small number of stations towards the end of the summer before being rolled across all the affected locations.

Mr Cortes argued that proposals had not been thought through, since as well as handling large amounts of cash the station hosts would have to operate gate lines, ‘making a recipe for confusion’.

He added: “We have tried to negotiate on these ideas but GTR just seem to be making it up as they go along.”

But a spokesman for GTR said: “TSSA now seems to want to join the RMT in heaping more misery on our passengers.

“Balloting for industrial action over proposals which will see affected staff earn more, where jobs have been guaranteed and which will result in station staff being available for longer seems not only pointless but ridiculous.

“We trust station teams will see these proposals are good news for them and for passengers.”

Explaining its decision to ballot its members last week, RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “These plans fly in the face of the response from thousands of passengers who objected to the closure of ticket offices and de-staffing of stations as Govia drives on with plans for a ‘faceless railway’ where the public are left to fend for themselves on rammed-out, dangerous and unreliable service.

“The union remains available for serious and meaningful talks but we will not sit back while Britain’s worst rail franchise moves to the next act in its on-going production ‘Carry on Carnage’.”

Meanwhile rail bosses are already facing the prospect of a week-long rail strike by the RMT on a separate dispute over the future role of conductors on Southern services.

The union has already staged industrial action in April, May, and June, but this would see five-straight days of strikes starting Monday August 8, with a third of trains in the revised timetable set to be cancelled.

The two sides are in talks this week through the mediation service ACAS.

Passengers have faced months of disruption due to staff shortages with both GTR and the RMT blaming each other for the current situation.

The Government has faced repeated calls to strip GTR of its franchise, including from this newspaper, but has so far dismissed these.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has offered to take over Southern services, something that has been supported across Sussex, while others have backed the idea of the Government taking back the franchise until a new operator can be found.