Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

into when they are admitted. But these specially appointed clerks were not born with the prospect of work lying before them, and many a sad history is connected with their entrance on official life. The young men in the Post Office spend their time in exercise or amusement when the hours of work are over. Many of the women go home to continue their exertions in some other form. The salary is small, and one tries to increase it by giving lessons; another by sewing; a third in drudgery of a domestic kind. The continuous close application is often found a relief from pressing thoughts of great sorrow or loneliness; or there may perhaps be anxiety to rise as rapidly as possible to a higher position in the section, that a larger salary may be obtained. The clerks in some cases have others depending on them. Lodgings, where two idiot brothers are her only companions, is the home of one woman. A solitary attic near London Bridge is the home of another of these clerks. Possibly the women plod more steadily than the men do. At any rate the authorities are satisfied that nothing is wanting among them of quiet, business-like ways.

An article in the Quarterly Review for January, on the 'Employment of Women in the Public Service,' draws attention to the rate at which female clerks are paid in the Post Office, and regrets the disparity between their salaries and those of the men. Less than half the amount of remuneration is received for doing the same work in quantity and quality, and this although the women are now performing a higher class of duties than at the time when the salaries were originally fixed.

It should be remembered that three reasons underlie this apparently unjust disparity, viz. the health of the women, the extra accommodations supplied expressly for their comfort, and, above all, the present market price of their work. Absence from ill-health is far oftener the case with the female than the male clerks; the daily routine tells upon the women, and the repetition without break of the same monotonous employment seems to wear them a great deal more than it does the other sex. The constant confinement, the want of fresh air, and the upright position, all tend to increase the average of absentees, and to swell it above that of the male officers. Added to this is the fact that many live at long distances, and travel backwards and forwards in stifling third-class underground railway carriages; many bring little or no lunch with them, and abstain from ordering food in the building; many work hard after office hours, and thus use more strength than they ought to expend. Thus they are oftener absent from their posts than the men, and during rough weather they are more apt to fall ill. The arrangements made for their comfort are all extra expenses, and have to be deducted from the money they earn.

Kitchen fires, cooking, and the wages of the housekeepers who live on the premises to prepare their dinner, are luxuries the men do not require. Necessities I should rather say, for strict rules forbid the female clerks to leave their apartments from the time they arrive until they depart in the afternoon. The dining-halls are furnished with every comfort. Dinner, consisting of hot meat one day and cold meat and pudding the next, is served at one o'clock, with tea, coffee, or beer, as the clerks may desire.

Lastly, and above all, the market price of the work is the present rate of payment, and only time can alter the fact. Were all the female clerks to resign in a body their places would be filled in a few days. The market is overcrowded, and while this remains the case all arguments in favour of an increase of wages fall pointless. It is true forty pounds is too little to live upon, therefore women who cannot afford to wait until they rise to be first-class clerks must seek a livelihood elsewhere. The employment of women is certainly a great saving to the service, but when they were admitted it was for the express purpose of economising by cheap labour. Reference is also made in the Quarterly article, already quoted, to the changes rumoured as likely to take place in the mode of admitting candidates, 'Do not disturb Camarina, for it is better undisturbed.' A responsive echo to this sentiment is found among the ladies themselves. They have for so many years enjoyed the exclusiveness of these clerkships that they dread the day when the door will be opened to all classes. The other branches of the Post Office, in which so many women are working, are separate from them at present, and they are afraid when private nominations are no longer given they will be forced to associate with women of all grades. There are so few things “ladies' can do, it is said, that it is hard to take from them their opportunities here.

Women have yet to learn that in work there can be no distinction save that of intellect. To put up shelters for the few is scarcely fair by the multitude, although pleasant enough for the chosen ones.

If private nominations are done away with, and the entrance examination is made more stiff and thrown open to all classes subject to an Oxford or Cambridge certificate, there will no doubt be a mixed crowd eager to become civil servants, because the clerkships are better paid and afford more freedom than most woman's work. Girls from High Schools and Girton students will compete, and no question will be asked as to social position. • Ladies' will no longer obtain appointments by interest, but will be forced to measure their strength with their struggling sisters, and to be content to take the places due to them by reason of individual merit. Hard as this appears at the moment, when we look into the matter we see that it will finally be good for all.

The number of female clerks is largely increasing. The Act for Investments in Government Stock and the Postal Money Orders Act have created two new fields for their efforts. The authorities

are pleased with their work and willing to enlarge their numbers. The Postmaster-General, speaking of the staff of officers in his report for 1875, when women were first admitted to the Savings Bank, says: ' As a further extension of female employment in the Post Office I have had the satisfaction of directing the formation of a class of female clerks in the Savings Bank. Although in arithmetic, at least, the standard of acquirement is high, a majority of the candidates succeed in passing the examination. That women clerks have gained in favour is proved by the rapid extension of their field of operation. All this points to an increased demand for their services, and holds out hopeful prospects of their being admitted to more branches of the Post Office and to other Government offices.

Here is work for the many highly educated girls in our schools and colleges, who are being trained in the very knowledge most necessary for labour as civil servants. The fact that the raising of the entrance examination is contemplated shows that the work is to be correspondingly hard. The women who have the ability to pass the examinations will not be unpleasant associates for the clerks already employed, and ladies' entering under the new régime need have nothing to fear from their future companions.

But if the office work grows harder and becomes of a more complicated nature, it necessarily follows that only clever and capable women will be able to pursue it, and the incapable ones will not compete at the examinations.

What is to become of those who possess little ability and who nevertheless are forced to provide for themselves ?

The death of employment is so great everywhere that ladies cannot do better, it seems to me, than take advantage of everything open to them, and thankfully accept all positions, making as light of the attendant discomforts as they possibly can. If the best clerkships are out of their reach, let them be contented to enter lower branches of the service, such as the Central Telegraph Office, the Return Letter Office, or even the Post Offices in London and the country.

I do not pretend that these places offer the advantages of the three branches I have already dwelt upon.

The salaries are less, and the arrangements include grave difficulties for timid, tenderly nurtured women; but in the struggle for bread this class of work is safe and respectable.

The Central Telegraph Office employs a mixed staff of 1,533 officers, which consists of 933 men and 600 women. They enter at the age of fourteen to eighteen in order that they may acquire the necessary manipulatory skill while their fingers are supple, and after passing an examination in arithmetic, writing, and dictation, they are sent to the school of Telegraphy, and learn to work the various instruments, the Wheatstone, Duplex, Sounder, Quadruple, Morse,

occur.

and Single Needle. When proficient, which is generally in about three months' time, they are drafted off to the Central Office as vacancies

At first they perform minor duties, and assist the officers in charge, but when able to work alone they receive the sole care of an instrument. They sit in one large room, boys, girls, men, and women together, and help one another when stress of work calls for two clerks at one instrument. The women work eight hours daily, coming on in relays between 8 A.M. and 8 P.M. They have a whole holiday on Sunday. The night duty and Sunday duty falls entirely on the men, who grumble a little at the extra work the presence of the women entails.

The Instrument Room is divided into two principal portions, the Provincial and Metropolitan, and these are subdivided into divisions and groups, seven in the Provincial and six in the Metropolitan Department. The north-east and south-east wings are set apart for the 283 instruments communicating with the various Metropolitan Postal Telegraph Offices; the remaining wings and the centre contain 221 instruments communicating with the provinces, Scotland, Ireland, and the news and special racing circuits. There are numerically fewer instruments in the Provincial than the Metropolitan galleries, but they embrace a large number of the fastworking automatic apparatus, and are harder to work than the rest, and therefore more in the hands of the men, the boys and women being congregated in the Metropolitan Department. At one end of the central gallery are twenty-four pneumatic tubes connecting seventeen of the important offices in the City and the West-End with the Central Telegraph Office. Several of the foreign cable companies and other offices communicate in the same manner. The House of Commons has a tube about two and a half miles long through which messages are blown, in from five to seven minutes. Tubes, working to offices in the West Strand and Lower Thames Street, about two and a half miles in length, have their messages transmitted in from three and a half to five minutes. The messages are drawn in by suction to the Central Telegraph Office, and are sent up to the instrument room by pressure from the engine room below. About 40,000 to 50,000 messages is the bulk of the daily traffic, and a large number of these are transmitted messages, and have to be received and forwarded, and therefore should practically be counted twice in the total. Besides this there are from 5,000 to 6,000 local London messages and a vast number of news messages. The greater part of the work is done between the hours of eleven and three, a lull occurring in the afternoon. This work is a barometer of business, varying from day to day, and increasing largely on race days, heavy parliamentary days, or when any matter of general interest takes place. The supervising officers are both men and women, and they are allowed to inflict the punishment of extra hours if they discover

any neglect of duty. The dinner is served on the premises in separate rooms, the Department providing fire and extras, also tea at four o'clock in the Instrument Room.

Women were employed here as early as 1853, while the wires belonged to the Electric Telegraph Company, and the number was increased in 1870 when the transfer of the wires to the Government took place. Considering the amount of work they perform, and the absence of night and Sunday duty, the salary of the women is in proportion to that of the men, being 88. when first admitted, and rising gradually to 781. a year, while the men receive 128. to commence with, and rise to 1601. a year; the supervising officers are paid higher. The female staff must always be considerably smaller than the male staff because of the many duties connected with the service they cannot perform, and also on account of their health, which suffers under extra pressure and prevents them from being reliable officers when any unexpected rush of business comes on. The manipulatory skill is found largely among them, and in time they become accustomed to the deafening noise of the machinery and the excitement of the employment. The work is rapidly increasing, and the number of women engaged will advance as the number of men advances; and their scale of pay will rise if it is found well to raise the pay of the department. Every possible care is taken of their comfort, and the rooms devoted to their use are perfect in arrangement. A few leave as incompetent, but great efforts are made to keep them in the service and not to send them adrift if it is possible to find work that they

can do.

Another department of the Post Office, the Return Letter Office in Telegraph Street, employs a staff of fifty-five women, and they work by themselves, with the exception of three of their number, who are engaged in the Enquiry Office, where personal enquiries are made for lost letters. The qualities required for this employment are good hand-writing, quickness, and patience. The work is to return lost letters to the senders, the letters having been examined before they arrive in this section, and destroyed in cases where the discovery of the names of the writers seemed hopeless. The letters lost during the year average one in twenty, 2,013,149 in all. Of these, 1,759,748 are returned, and 253,401 are destroyed. The post-cards lost are about 71,754, and 39,649 are returned, and the same is the yearly average for newspapers and circulars. All articles lost in the post, or dead as the postmen describe them, are sent here-photographs, cheap jewellery, shoes, even umbrellas, to say nothing of white mice, rats, and serpents. Flowers from all countries are in vases on the tables, the rest of the things are in cupboards to be kept for two months, and when of value three months, and then to be sold by the Post Office auctioneer. At Christmas, Easter, and on Valentine's Day the cupboards are filled with presents badly packed, or bearing

« VorigeDoorgaan »