2013: Delegation to Norway

In 2013 an ASLEF delegation attended the women’s conference of the Norwegian train drivers’ union Norsk Transportarbeiderforbund.

A group of women stand together on a bridge over a small lake. They are surrounded by green grass, rocks and trees.

Lee James, ASLEF’s equalities adviser, reports from the Norwegian train drivers’ union’s first women’s conference:

As soon as I stepped into a water taxi for the final leg of our journey I knew that the first women’s conference of Norsk Lokomotivmannsforbund would not be a typical experience. Our destination was Stolkilen, a tiny island off the coast of Kristiansand, in southern Norway, owned by the union and used by members for holidays and training events. Its beauty, simplicity, and serenity – just sea, forest, six cabins and a communal shed in which to eat and drink – was breathtaking.

The NLF is a craft union, founded in 1893, with 1,600 members (every driver in the country bar one!) The union’s female membership – 72 – is a similar percentage to ASLEF but a large proportion play an active part. One of our hosts, Grethe Thorsen, should be congratulated on being the first woman elected to the NLF’s executive committee.

There’s a strong British connection because Norway’s first train driver was William Graham from Darlington.

My companions across the North Sea were Julie Clegg-Haver, WRC member for District 3, and District 1 Organiser Graham Morris. Each of us spoke to conference: Julie on her experiences as a female driver in Britain; Graham on the effects of privatisation during the last 20 years; and I spoke about ASLEF’s gender equality work.

Four people sit in a white boat on a lake

The agenda was varied and included discussion on an NLF study into equality, issues in the freight sector, and the European Commission’s fourth railway package. While the topics in the conference room were engaging and informative the highlight for me was speaking individually to the 21 female delegates. All were as keen to find out about ASLEF, and driving in the UK, as we were to learn about their experiences. Margaret Thatcher and the royal family were also popular subjects!

The issues for female drivers in Norway are very different to those for our female members; some of this is down to better legal protection. If you submit a flexible working request due to caring responsibilities companies rarely refuse to grant it. If you tell your company you are pregnant you can continue to drive until you start maternity leave; and maternity pay is far higher rate for far longer. Every union member is entitled to six days release per year to take an active part in the organisation. Perhaps most surprising, for me, is you can drive in high heels if you want to!

The hospitality of our hosts was exceptional. Our thanks, especially, to Rita Jørgensen and Gretha Thorsen. I hope the links between the female members of ASLEF and the NLF continue long into the future. Skål, ladies…

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