Rail company accused of intimidating workers

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Union leaders accused a leading rail firm today of trying to silence staff fighting plans to axe jobs and ticket office opening hours.

The Transport Salaried Staffs Association said First Capital Connect (FCC), which runs commuter services to London, has warned that it will discipline staff who display petitions urging passengers to object to the cuts.

The union, which is fighting proposals to reduce ticket office opening times on the Thameslink and Kings Cross lines, said it will fight any attempt to "intimidate" workers.

TSSA general secretary Gerry Doherty said: "It beggars belief that a company in the 21st century wants to silence staff when it is axing jobs and services which directly impact on passenger services.

"It is clearly not in the interests of the booking office staff, who will lose their jobs, and clearly not in the interests of passengers, who see their ticket offices suffer cuts of 750 hours with closures on Saturdays and Sundays and cuts in evening opening hours.

"We shall resist any attempt to silence or intimidate our members.

"What is in FCC's commercial interest is not in the passenger interests. They will have to buy more expensive tickets from machines and their stations will be less secure with closed ticket offices."

Passengers have been given until February 3 to protest against the closure plans, which will hit stations from Luton, Hertford and St Neots to the Elephant and Castle and Tooting in south London via St Albans, Stevenage and Finsbury Park.

The union said 23 booking office jobs will go under the plans.

Mr Doherty accused the company of trying to rush the closures by allowing less than a month for passengers to object.

Last year, South West Trains allowed a three-month consultation when it proposed cutbacks at 114 stations, a move largely rejected by rail ministers last week.

"They are worried that staff will win the backing of many more passengers if we have a proper three-month consultation exercise," he said.

A spokesman for First Capital Connect said: "The TSSA leadership agreed with FCC that sending such communication while staff are on duty and in uniform is inappropriate and have asked their members to cease such activity.

"The process, in any case, is for customers to make their views known through (the watchdogs) Passenger Focus and London TravelWatch."

FCC said ticket machines now account for a third of sales "and are preferred by increasing numbers of customers", adding that 18 jobs would go, but there would be no compulsory redundancies.