Hundreds of station staff are to be balloted for strike action in protest over ticket office closures and changes to working practices at Southern traIns.
It means 600,000 commuters who have just suffered two days of travel problems caused by a striking guards now face further major disruption in a new dispute.
The ballot result will be declared next month with the RMT union predicting overwhelming support for industrial action.
Mick Cash, the RMT leader, said Transport Focus, the national rail watchdog, had “knocked back” the ticket office closure plans.
“The RMT is totally opposed to the closure or reduction in opening hours of ticket offices, cuts in station staff jobs and the introduction of lone working at stations and the union will continue our fight against these attacks on our member’s jobs, safety and living conditions. “Therefore the union will begin preparations for a ballot of all our Southern Govia Thameslink Railway station staff members for industrial action.”
Ticket office changes are planned from the summer with Southern saying that some offices sell fewer than 12 tickets per hour. Not all stations are affected by the changes.
At stations where the ticket offices are closed a station “host” will be on duty “from the very first to last train, seven days a week.” The “host” will be available “answering customer queries, providing advice and assisting ticket purchases.” Southern said the changes are aimed at providing “an improved customer experience.”
The union says having “lone” members of staff at stations selling tickets raises “huge safety implications” for the person concerned.
Commuters face two more 24-hour strikes by conductors spread over four days from Tuesday 10 May. Conductors walked out on Tuesday 26th and Wednesday 27th April.
Peace talks take place tomorrow between Southern and the RMT in an effort to avert the walkouts.