BR wants more black drivers

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The Independent Online
AN INTERNAL British Rail inquiry has found that only 2 per cent of its drivers come from ethnic minorities. The figure emerged amid increasing management concern about racism among BR employees.

An investigation has been launched into the treatment of four Asian trainee drivers at a London depot who allegedly faced 'obstructive' behaviour from qualified white colleagues. Some drivers allegedly refused to take the trainees on trial runs and racist graffiti has allegedly been daubed on buildings.

Three years ago, the four were among eight Asian guards at Paddington who failed drivers' aptitude tests. The Commission for Racial Equality backed their case alleging discrimination and BR subsequently admitted that selection procedures were racially biased. Since then two have become senior conductors, two failed the examination and four became trainees at Old Oak Common depot near Paddington.

The 'ethnic monitoring' undertaken since January has found only 341 black drivers out of a total of 15,000. A considerable proportion of these are trainees recruited under recently improved equal opportunites policies. Only 2 per cent of drivers are black, but the figures for guards and station staff are more than 10 per cent.

Management acknowledges that the figure for drivers does the industry little credit. Drivers are seen as the elite of the hourly-paid workforce and the job has been dominated by white males jealous of their craft status. Only 149 drivers are women.

Gareth Hadley, a senior BR personnel official, says the industry's ability to recruit black people and women is made more difficult by a low turnover of staff. 'More often than not we're filling dead men's shoes.'

Paul Nicholls, head of the employment law department at solicitors Dibb, Lupton and Broomhead, which represented the guards, said: 'It seems that British Rail has recognised there are very real problems and it's surprising there isn't greater commitment from unions.'

A spokesman for RMT, the rail and transport union to which the trainees belong, insisted the Old Oak Commmon inquiry was started at the union's instigation.

'We take every allegation of racial and sexual harassment seriously. We want the inquiry to proceed quickly.'

Earlier this year the RMT was told by the EOC that it would have to take action before September or face a full formal investigation. The warning came after the eight guards complained the union had failed to support them.

The union says that it has since taken action to monitor the ethnic origin of officials and members, deal with under-represented racial groups and train officials in how to handle discrimination in the workplace. The RMT spokesman said the trainees were being fully backed by the union.