Philip Hammond was crucified in Saturday’s Sun for a jest at Cabinet that driving a train these days is so simple that ‘even a woman can do that’, and was slapped down by Theresa May for this remark, which has somehow been made public.
The Chancellor is wrong in his words in two ways, if we focus exclusively on the London Underground network.
Firstly, there are no train drivers on the London Underground. There are train operators. Most trains are completely automated.
Secondly, there must be something quite difficult about operating a London Underground train, because female operators are outnumbered by their male colleagues by a ratio of six-to-one. There is a greater percentage of women MPs in the Commons than there are women train operators on the Tube.
A Freedom of Information request (FOI Request ref 1717-1617) to Transport for London (TfL) found that out of the 3687 train operators, 3171 were male and just 513 were female.
None of the numerous feminist organisations seem to make this glaring inequality an issue in their campaigns.
The barrier for women to operate a London Underground train is not the difficulty of the task. All the operator has to do is to push the button to close the doors and start the train moving. It will automatically stop at the next station.
For the onerous task of pushing a couple of buttons, train operators are paid somewhere in the region of £50,000.
Confronted about this imbalance, TfL’s spokeswoman said ‘…many women think that a career in transport isn’t for them.’
It is inconceivable that any woman would consider that being paid £50,000 to press a couple of buttons in a largely automated train ‘isn’t for them’.
A recruitment advert in the London’s Evening Standard with ‘£50,000’ in large bold type could be used to encourage women to apply. TfL could ensure that an equal number of men and women are hired.
There is one small problem.
Vacancies for tube train operators are not publicly advertised.
A deal with the railway unions means that these vacancies are initially offered internally. Men seem to benefit from this rule more than women.
The exception to this is for operators on the Night Tube. So women are allowed to apply to sit alone in a train at dead of night on a graveyard shift.
The likely reason why there is such a gender imbalance for what seems to be a simple button-pushing job seems to be that the prime qualification is to be ‘reliable’ in the eyes of the rail union, the RMT. It seems that men are more ‘reliable’.
The unnecessary operators of these automated trains seem to be paid so much to not go on strike, and that’s it. This does not stop demands for extra payments for any unusual occurrence, like the 2012 Olympics. There seems no reason why there was a need to pay extra money apart from the fact that the unions could extort it for the duration of the games. National prestige was at stake.
The Rule Book of the RMT states as one of its objects: “to oppose actively all forms of harassment, prejudice and unfair discrimination whether on the grounds of sex, race, ethnic or national origin, religion, colour, class, caring responsibilities, marital status, sexuality, disability, age or personal characteristic.” A six-to-one gender imbalance is not seen by the RMT as ‘unfair’.
Philip Hammond was wrong. It is not that simple to operate a London Underground train. In addition to pushing a couple of buttons, the operator usually has to be ‘one of the boys’, a good ‘union man’.
On the London Underground, when it comes to operating an automated train, most women apparently can’t do that. Sorry Philip.