Why are train drivers male and white? Union asks.

16 May 2012 Train drivers are a colourful group of people. But that doesn't extend to race or gender, according to a report released today at the ASLEF conference. Only about 4.2% of the grade ASLEF represents are women and a mere 4.9% come from ethnic minorities.

16 May 2012| News

16 May 2012

Train drivers are a colourful group of people. But that doesn’t extend to race or gender, according to a report released today at the ASLEF conference. Only about 4.2% of the grade ASLEF represents are women and a mere 4.9% come from ethnic minorities.

‘We decided to find out why this is – and to press employers to come up with remedies,’ says Mick Whelan, the union’s general secretary. ‘These figures show that there is plainly something wrong in this age of professed equality.’

So last year the union commissioned a report to put to employers which defines the problem and maps out what we can do to ensure that companies act positively to recruit women and ethnic minorities to fill train driver vacancies.

‘When we raise the issue with employers, we are often told that women and ethnic minorities are not recruited because they do not apply,’ Mick says. ‘This is probably true. But if it is, we need to change perceptions.

‘There is a host of ways we can do this. We can convince youngsters in schools not to self-select themselves out of applying for a job that is challenging and rewarding. Northern Rail, for example, is doing this now. The company goes out into the community to explain that a career on the foot-plate is not ‘boy’s work’ any more than being a chef is ‘woman’s work’. At the other extreme, the government could include a clause insisting on recruitment diversity in franchise bids.’

The union is anxious to point out that the report is not merely a moan or a chronicle of facts about failures. ‘It offers a programme of action to train companies about what to do about the problem. We are tired of everyone recognising the problem, shaking heads sagely – and then doing nothing.

‘The union is not responsible for recruitment – that is down to employers. But we are anxious to assist them in changing practices.’

The union has raised the issue with government as well as employers, and has had a sympathetic hearing from Conservative rail minister Justine Greening. ‘We will be pressing her to apply the Equality Act to the industry, and include a clause within franchising bids that each bidder must have an Equality Plan.’

Other initiatives being propose include urging companies to

· Include adverts designed to present companies as inclusive and welcoming to women and placing them where women are likely to read them

· Holding events and open days to encourage women and BEM people to apply

· ensuring that interview panels are trained in preventing bias and internal recruitment strategies.

The union itself will consider

· raising awareness of the importance of equality and diversity issues among its members

· and other rail employees

· considering support for limited part-time working

· working with employers to support positive action initiatives

· considering whether governmental and quasi-governmental organisations operating in the rail industry can be called upon to comply with the public sector equality duty.

Carolyn Jones, Director of IER said, ‘We are very pleased to have assisted with this excellent piece of work and trust it helps ASLEF achieve its goal of improving diversity. We have agreed to monitor developments and report back to ASLEF in a year.’

‘It is time for us to reconsider the traditional image of the train driver,’ Mick Whelan concluded. ‘We hope we will find support across the industry for this initiative.’

Find out more and buy the publication here

Note on the author

The report ‘On Track with Diversity’ was written by independent legal professional Muriel Robison, in association with the Institute of Employment Rights.

Muriel is an Employment Judge with the Employment Tribunal Service, a former Head of Commission Enforcement at the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Director of Legal Affairs, Scotland at the Equal Opportunities Commission, Glasgow. She has also published widely in the area of equality and human rights in publications such as SCOLAG, Butterworths Employment Law and the Employment Law Bulletin. She has served as Notary Public since 1992 and was also awarded and Honorary LLD from the University of Glasgow in 2005.

The Institute of Employment Rights

What Is the Institute?

The Institute of Employment Rights was established in February 1989 as an independent organisation to act as a focal point for the spread of new ideas in the field of labour law. In 1994 the Institute became a registered charity.

Our aim is to provide a wide variety of high quality publications which we hope will stimulate debate and analysis about employment law policies and legal developments in industrial relations.

The results of the work of the Institute are published in booklets available for sale or through annual subscription. The Institute also provides short articles (free of legal jargon) for trade union journals and other popular publications. We organise conferences and seminars on topics of particular importance and hold occasional lectures.