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staff commenced with thirty members, and gradually their numbers have been increased, and their work now embraces that of the Clearing House, the greater part of the Examiner's Branch of the Savings Bank, and the Postal Orders Examining Branch.
To give an idea of the capacities required in the workers it is necessary to state briefly the nature of their duties, and to describe the way in which these are despatched. That a good deal of mental strain is put upon the officers will be seen readily, and that the work is no sinecure will appear from the following facts.
The clerks enter upon a six months' probation after passing an examination in arithmetic, dictation, handwriting, and grammar, under the Civil Service Commissioners, at Cannon Row or Burlington House; and at the end of that time, if their health and conduct are considered satisfactory, a report is sent in to the authorities by the superintendent, and they are fully established as second-class clerks. The salary commences from the day of entry, and is 65l. a year, rising by 31. to 80l. for a second-class clerk; 85l., rising by 5l. to 1101., for a first-class clerk; and 1101., rising to 1701., for a principal clerk. The age of admission is between seventeen and twenty. The hours of attendance are from ten a.m. to four p.m.; and the holidays consist of a free afternoon on Saturday and a calendar month some time during the year.
The Clearing House is situated at No 1 Albion Place, Blackfriars Bridge, and it will be remembered that this was the first branch of the Post Office in which ladies were engaged. The work here has to do with telegrams, and every telegram sent throughout the United Kingdom is forwarded here from the General Post Office for examination. In the press section on the ground floor all unpaid telegrams are received which are sent by those papers, agencies, clubs, exchanges, and news-rooms, which have made arrangements with the PostmasterGeneral for the transmission of news. The telegrams are sorted, their words counted, and the number entered to the names of the senders whose franks they bear, and then they are put away on the shelves round the walls. Above this room is the section for the examination of messages for small charges. All paid telegrams sent throughout England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland are counted here, and examined to see that the right number of stamps have been affixed. Such words as “cui bono' or names like · fly-by-night'are apt to be written as one word, and the clerk in whose division such mistakes occur writes a report of the error, and her decision is checked by a principal clerk. The daily average of mistakes is about one hundred and fifty to two hundred, and they are all entered in a book, and the telegrams are kept for two years, in case some further information should be required. The messages found correct are returned in sacks to the General Post Office.
The Government Account Section occupies the third floor, and consists of the postmasters' abstract work, viz. daily account of the number of messages each postmaster has sent out, and the commission he claims. This work varies in quantity. During the snowstorm in January of this year, 97,143 more messages were sent than during the same week of the preceding year. It is noticed that messages increase during wet weather, and decrease on bright sunny days. The postmasters' accounts are examined weekly, and a monthly abstract sheet is made out for the general office. The highest room is where the Government messages and those of the Queen and her family are counted and charged to the offices, and to the Controllers of the Royal Households. This apartment is far up above the noise of the streets, and a small balcony allows the clerks to breathe the fresh air from the river. A few withered ferns outside the window struggle to keep life in them, and are carefully tended by their owners, but the smoke and fog do not encourage the growth of young leaves.
The Examiners' Branch of the Savings Bank, in which ladies are employed, occupies a floor of the new building in Queen Victoria Street, and the staff numbers one hundred and thirty ladies. private staircase leads up to this part of the building, and a diningroom and kitchen are attached to it, in order that no communication need be carried on with the other floors. This work is in three sections, and a fourth has been added by the Act for Investments in Government Stock. The post offices of the kingdom are separated into ninety-six divisions, and each division is the work of a separate clerk. The work consists in examining the signatures of depositors who withdraw money from the Savings Bank ; in initialing them if found correct; and in entering the amount of the withdrawals on remittance-sheets for the Receiver and Accountant-General. The notices are forwarded to the book-keeper's branch, and when returned, if found correct, warrants are sent to the depositors signed with the initials of the examiner, and advices to the paying offices. Examiners sign for withdrawals up to fifty pounds; first-class clerks to one hundred and fifty; and the superintendent for all sums over that amount. The Daily Balance Section deals solely with the postmasters, and is also arranged in divisions. The clerks receive the daily dockets of postmasters, stating the number of deposits and withdrawals in their various offices; and they examine dates and stamp marks, report errors, and make out a daily total. The Allowance and Adjustment Section is where the allowances to postmasters are counted, the rate of payment being five pounds for each thousand transactions of deposits and withdrawals for the medium-sized offices, and two pounds a year for the small offices. The large offices receive a fixed salary, and are dealt with elsewhere. Certificates and vouchers for payment are sent quarterly to the Receiver and Accountant-General. A final adjustment sheet for all the deposits and withdrawals dealt with is made out every quarter, and must agree with the numbers taken from the ledgers in the Ledger Branch of the Receiver and Accountant-General's Office. This section is the most difficult in point of brain-work, the adjustment sheet requiring great nicety in calculation, and clear-headedness in tracing the smallest error. It is therefore the last section to which the clerks are introduced while learning gradually the whole of the work, in order that they may be ready to fill any vacancies caused by illness or any other reasons of absence among their numbers.
The section for Investments in Government Stock was commenced by six female clerks under the direction of men ; and although the difficulties they had to encounter were greater than any they had previously experienced, their duties were accomplished to the satisfaction of their teachers, who bear testimony that little trouble was evinced by the women in understanding the work, and who speak in the highest terms of the way in which it was done. The clerks in this section deal with the applications for investments in Government stock. They compare the signatures of the declarations with those of the applications, and initial them if they agree; they examine the books of depositors to ascertain that the balances to their credit are sufficient to cover the investments and the commission, and if so initial them; they calculate the amount of the stock sold and the commission, and enter it as a withdrawal in the depositors' books, and affix the Department stamp before sending the books to the postmasters. They deal with applications for stock certificates, and calculate dividends, compile adjustment sheets of the amount of the investments, commission, and Bank of England fees, and prove the totals of the columns against the totals of the entries in the Daily Record of Investments and Sales. As the public begin more fully to appreciate the advantages of further investment of money in the Savings Bank this work will increase, and a larger number of female clerks will be required. The pioneers in this section were chosen from the most able of the staff, but the facility with which these grasped the idea proves that the ability for the work will not be wanting among female officers.
The Postal Orders Examining Branch began in January 1881 at the Clearing House, and has been removed to 111 Queen Victoria Street. The clerks here engaged bave been drafted in from the Savings Bank and the Clearing House, and a few were admitted by special examination. The work is easier than in the two other branches where women are employed, but a good deal of trouble is experienced in explaining the postal orders to the country postmasters, who, although they have the regulations in their possession, fail to understand them. Of the 13,000 post-offices in the United Kingdom 5,000 only are places where money orders are issued, the remaining 8,000 being for the collection and distribution of letters alone. But
the postmasters in the remote villages of Scotland and Ireland are extremely illiterate, and much time is at present spent in correspondence where mistakes have been made.
Post-office Orders were introduced in 1792 by three officers of the Inland Department of the Post Office, and the original intention was to enable the friends of soldiers and sailors to forward
to them by letter. The system was carried on at the risk and expense of these persons, who provided themselves with a chief office in the neighbourhood of the General Post Office. It was a private enterprise, for which they made their own arrangements with the postmasters as to the extent of the work, the mode of doing it, and the remuneration they were to receive. In 1838 the Earl of Lichfield, then Postmaster-General, obtained the sanction of Government for converting this private money order office into an official establishment, forming a branch of the General Post Office, under the management of proper officials, its produce being appropriated to the
The number of orders issued in the succeeding year of 1839 was 188,921. The penny postage had an important effect on the business, and in 1841 the number sent out increased to 587,797. In 1856 business commenced with the colonies, and in 1860 with foreign lands. Up to 1868 there was a continuous flow of business, but in that year the parliamentary grant of education by the Privy Council Office ceased to be made by means of money order, and a decrease followed. In 1871 the rates of commission were lowered and the work once more enlarged. In 1875 the total number paid was 16,000,000.
But it was found that the Inland Revenue lost by post-office orders for small sums, owing to the large amount of clerical labour involved, and the time spent in securing safe transmission. For all sums under ten shillings a loss of twopence was incurred, that is twopence on 25 per cent. of the whole. The question was discussed in committee, and it was decided that the accommodation of the poor being the object of post-office orders, some means of allowing them to the public must be discovered. Finally, a proposal was made that no money order should be issued under the charge of threepence, and that for sums less than one pound postal notes should be used, for the transmission of which less precaution need be taken than in the case of larger sums. This plan met with approval, and was embodied in the Postal Orders Act of the 7th of September, 1880.
Postmasters are supplied from Somerset House with postal notes, and at the end of each day they enter on a docket the number and value of those paid and those remaining unissued, and forward the docket with the paid orders to the Metropolitan Office. The orders are sent on to 111 Queen Victoria Street from the General Office, those of Dublin and Edinburgh in green bags, sealed. The work consists in checking the receipt of postmasters' dockets in a book kept for the purpose; in examining each order to see that it is signed by the payee; in entering the amount of any postage stamps affixed in their proper book ; in examining the signatures of the postmasters and the stamps specifying the day on which they were issued or cancelled; and in initialing the dockets if found correct. The numbers are entered on a Division Sheet, to be sent to the Cash Account Branch, that the amount of each postmaster's payments may be compared with the amount claimed in his cash account. The orders are then tied up in packets and laid in the pigeon-holes of their respective divisions in the labyrinths of cupboards at the top of the house.
The Money Orders business grows daily. The facility with which postal notes are sent renders them extremely popular, not only with the poor, but with all classes. To have a stock ready at hand for sending small sums of money, paying bills and subscriptions, is a saving of time and trouble, especially to those who live in the country at some distance from a market town. With the aid of stamps they can be made up to any sum of shillings and pence, and are less expensive than post-office orders, and safer for transmission than stamps. This work as it develops will furnish occupation for a large number of women, who will have the satisfaction of knowing that this division is entirely worked by themselves.
It will be seen from the above that the work in which these women are engaged is not mere manual labour, but requires careful application as well as skill of hand. One careless mistake involves endless trouble, for the accounts are kept with such precision that one penny miscalculated has to be searched for through numberless papers until it is checked. The hours are not long, but every moment spent in the office, except the dinner half-hour, is persistently employed, and the tension put on the power of the officers is too great to last over a longer time. Some few of the clerks are advised to retire after the six months' probation if it is found that although they could pass the examination they have not the quickness necessary for the work ; but the greater number remain and advance gradually, the berths being too highly appreciated to be left for other employments.
In contrasting the work of the women with that of the men in the Post Office, the authorities say that the women are more conscientious, and take a greater interest in their occupation.
This is perhaps only too easily accounted for when it is remembered what is the class of women who are here employed.
The three branches of the Post Office of which I am speaking were opened to women with the express intention of giving occupation to ladies, and as each appointment has been made by the Postmaster-General this rule has been strictly adhered to.
The women in the Telegraph Department and other Post Office work are distinct from these clerks, and their social position is not inquired