A series of 24-hour strikes by London Underground (LU) workers is to be launched next month in a row over jobs, threatening travel chaos for passengers and costing the economy tens of millions of pounds, it was learned today.
The walkouts, by members of the Rail Maritime and Transport union and the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, are set to start on September 7, the day after the House of Commons resumes following the summer recess.
Monthly 24-hour strikes are expected to be held, as well as a ban on overtime, unless plans to axe 800 jobs are scrapped by Transport for London and Mayor Boris Johnson.
RMT leader Bob Crow and TSSA general secretary Gerry Doherty met today to finalise the strike timetable, which will be announced tomorrow.
Members of both unions have voted in favour of a campaign of industrial action over plans to cut 800 jobs among station staff.
Colin Stanbridge, chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce, said: "If these strikes go ahead it will cause massive disruption to London's firms and damage our city's reputation as a reliable place to do business.
"Each day the Underground is shut it will cost the London economy £48 million and hamper the recovery of all sorts of companies still hungover from a crippling worldwide recession.
"The unions need to accept that everyone in the private and public sectors are having to do more with less nowadays and understand that holding millions of commuters to ransom is an unacceptable response to not having its demands met."
Howard Collins, LU's chief operating officer, said: "It is simply not possible to go on with a situation where some ticket offices sell fewer than 10 tickets an hour.
"It is clear that passengers can be better served by getting staff out from behind the windows of under-used ticket offices.
"We need to change, but we will do so without compromising safety, without compulsory redundancies, and in a way that means all stations will continue to be staffed at all times and all stations with a ticket office will continue to have one.
"The weak mandate for strike action, which saw only around 35% of TSSA members and less than a third of RMT members voting for a walkout, should resonate with the unions' leadership."
Mr Collins added the strikes were in nobody's interest and should not go ahead.
Transport for London (TfL) said the quietest ticket offices included North Ealing, which sells fewer than six tickets an hour, and Latimer Road and Moor Park, which sell around seven an hour.
Sales from ticket offices were down 28% over the last four years as more people switched to the Oyster card payment system, with only one in 20 Tube journeys starting with a visit to a ticket office, said TfL.
"The changes proposed by LU are designed to ensure that customer service and safety remain the top priorities, that staff remain available at every station to help customers, and that all stations that currently have a ticket office service will continue to have one with opening times to reflect customer demand.
"Staff will be more effectively deployed to areas of stations where they can better assist customers, whilst delivering the best possible value for fare and taxpayers.
"The proposed changes would mean a reduction in the total number of posts across LU, but will involve no compulsory redundancies, and will have no impact on the Tube's high safety standards," said TfL.
Most of the 800 jobs set to be axed were among ticket office staff, although 150 will be cut from management and administrative staff, representing less than 5% of LU's 19,000 workforce.
Mr Crow said: "These cuts would leave stations and platforms unstaffed and would remove the very people who are trained to deal with emergencies.
"Our members have voted for strike action to defend their jobs and the safety of the Tube network, and we hope that Tube users will stand with us to demand that existing safety standards are not ripped to shreds.
"In recent weeks we have seen potential disasters narrowly averted, with a fire at Euston station and a runaway train on the Northern Line, and Boris Johnson's cuts would deal a potentially fatal blow to the ability to deal with emergencies."
* Tube drivers at LU's White City Central Line depot have voted to strike over the sacking of a colleague, the RMT announced today.