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Rail company defends menopause gift bags after union uproar

A rail operator has defended its decision to hand out gift bags to staff going through the menopause after unions described them as 'insulting' and 'demeaning'.

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Avanti West Coast has introduced menopause gift bags for staff

Avanti West Coast, which operates express trains in the West Midlands, has been criticised for giving staff packs containing a fan to keep coo - and a jelly baby 'in case you feel like biting someone’s head off'.

The packs also included a tissue, 'if you’re feeling a bit emotional' and a paperclip 'to help you keep it all together'.

But the move has been described as 'demeaning' by the Transport Salaried Staff's Association (TSSA), and 'an insulting gimmick' by the Association for Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (Aslef).

The bags, which also included chocolate and teabags and a pencil 'to write down things you might forget', were handed out to staff at drop-ins for menopause support conversations.

Avanti said that the packs had been available for a year at the request of a female member of staff.

But Aslef posted a picture of the packs on X, formerly known as Twitter, commenting: "The menopause is debilitating for some women, it’s not a joke.

"Rather than handing out insulting gimmicks to female employees you’d be better placed developing workplace policies and procedures that value and support perimenopausal and menopausal women!"

The Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association said the pack was 'appalling, demeaning and dismissive'. It added: “Women deserve informed support and respect from their employers, not belittlement.”

A spokesman for Avanti West Coast said the pack was just part of a wider programme of support for employees going through the menopause.

“This is a gift bag designed and created by our own in-house menopause support group and derived from a suggestion from a colleague based on her own personal experience," he said.

"It is part of a much wider and well-used package of support provided by Avanti West Coast, as part of our commitment to be a proud menopause-friendly employer.

“Over the course of the last year, Avanti West Coast has undertaken a wide range of menopause support initiatives including launching guidance for colleagues and managers, creating a support group on internal channels – which is a safe space for women to chat and seek support around menopause and perimenopause as well as setting up specialist library – giving staff free access to books on the subject.”

He added that other initiatives included face-to-face sessions hosted across the country where people could learn about menopause in a 'safe space'.

The company had also changed its uniform to include 100 per cent cotton shirts to make staff more comfortable.

Avanti West Coast was looking to add further support measures over the coming year, the spokesman added.

Avanti has been heavily criticised for the number of cancellations to its services in recent months.

Daniel Kawczynski, MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham, has called for a parliamentary debate on the company's performance.