Many feel that in 2016 our society should be a tolerant, accepting place, regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation. Sexism in the workplace was meant to be extinct by now.
But coach driver Anne Foster, a former community support officer from Gosport, claims she continues to experience bigoted attitudes on a regular basis.
I believe that as I am a woman and it would cost more to put me in a hotel while I am away on work, I am not getting the shifts. It’s wrongAnne Foster
Due to the money-driven nature of the holiday industry, Anne says she has found her life as a coach driver a huge challenge – something she, and many other female drivers, were not expecting when they first got behind the wheel.
‘I fell into this career after my marriage broke down and I wanted to make more of my life,’ Anne explains.
‘For 20 years I was a housewife.
‘I had nothing for myself and I remember in 2002 seeing a woman driving a big bus.
‘I thought I could do that too. She was my inspiration, so I went straight down to the bus station, passed my tests and drove buses for two years.’
Anne’s vision had always been to combine her love of driving and travelling, so a career driving passengers on excursions across Europe and the UK was her ideal job.
Taking on extra shifts in order to gain experience, Anne says she continued to fall foul of what she calls the industry’s ‘deep problems with sexism’, because when she applied to do the long-haul trips she was denied.
‘I believe that as I am a woman and it would cost more to put me in a hotel while I am away on work, I am not getting the shifts. It’s wrong.
‘They would have to give me a separate room away from a male driver who I might share the driving with.’
‘If you look at the coaching industry, it does feel like males are more profitable.
‘The young female drivers might have children and they need to be looked after, so they are not so free and easy as their male counterparts.’
Anne is not the only driver to come forward with these concerns.
Another female driver, who wished to remain anonymous, explained the uncomfortable situations men and women drivers are put through when they’re expected to share a room on the job.
‘It’s incredibly awkward. One driver I shared with was terrified as he thought his wife might find out he was sharing a room with me,’ she says.
‘You have to share a bathroom, so you have to arrange when one of you has to leave the room and then tell them when to come back in.
‘From my point of view, we are all adults. We wouldn’t expect our children to share a room at home when they reach their teenage years, so why us?’
In 2012, it was estimated that as few as five per cent of coach drivers were female.
It’s unsurprising especially, when another story is explained by the unnamed driver.
‘Normally you know the people who you are going away on trips with, but sometimes if you are going overnight on a ferry, all you get is a cabin.
‘When you get to the cabin, you find out you’re sharing with another man who you have never met before.
‘My current boss would never expect me to share a room, but if it was another company or a tour operator and I refused to share I would be at risk of losing my position.’
Campaign group BUSK (Belt Up School Kids) agrees that this form of discrimination shows women to be unfavorably viewed within their workplace.
BUSK was set up in 1993 with the main purpose of bringing about change in seat belt legislation for children.
Since successfully introducing laws that make it illegal for children not to wear the straps on coaches, head of BUSK Pat Harris has continued to fight against injustices within coaching.
‘There’s a huge problem within this industry and it has gone on for more than 30 years,’ Pat explains.
‘The issue here is not just the forced sharing of rooms, but the fact that drivers are not getting the correct amount of rest.
‘Drivers are often put in rooms that are near noisy kitchens, entertainment centres of holiday resorts or close to excitable children. They’re not getting enough sleep. Being tired at the wheel is worse than drinking, so something needs to change.’
BUSK’s new scheme, called Nightcap, was produced after a European Commission Report linked driver fatigue with up to 30 per cent of coach crashes.
It has been backed by the government and talks about its progress are ongoing.
A number of coaching companies were contacted by The News about the issues in this article, but none responded.
‘A FAIRLY TYPICAL EXAMPLE’
With BUSK campaigning on behalf of drivers across the country, what can the likes of Anne do?
Lynne Davies, chief executive of Portsmouth’s Citizen’s Advice Bureau, believes that action could be taken against Anne’s former employer and has urged others to not feel put off by the effects of discrimination.
‘On the face of it, it appears there has been some kind of detriment suffered,’ Lynne says.
‘The overwhelming majority of people who come to us on sexual discrimination cases are women who are pregnant or have been on maternity, but this is the first time I have heard reports of sexism within the coaching industry.
‘This seems like a fairly typical example of a woman in an environment traditionally dominated by men.’
There is the possibility of taking companies to a tribunal, but tribunal action is something which has become increasingly expensive over the years. Although the Ministry of Justice is reviewing the effect of these costs on the number of complaints received, Lynne believes those experiencing problems should always come forward
‘In employment tribunals there is an important point around timing. Action must be taken within three months of the situation starting,’ she says.
‘But with the introduction of fees we are finding people are put off by doing this. In this situation the allegation is a Type B claim which means there are two fees to pay which total £1,200.
‘It’s a significant amount of money, but I would always urge those faced with these problems to talk to someone like the CBA first and discuss these things further.’