By Alfred Barnard
Author of" Every Way of Earning a Living," " Our Sons and Daughters," etc.
" Number, please ? "
The question from the Exchange over the wire is a familiar one, yet few people are acquainted with the conditions which govern the employment of the telephone operator. There are many young girls who would like to enter this sphere of labour if they knew how to go about it. and for this reason we have chosen the telephone service for our first article in this section.
Since 1882, when in London there were only about thirty-five operators. exchanges have sprung up everywhere, and thus a fresh field of labour has been created which is to be commended to the attention of girls who are required to earn their own living.
Garrard Exchange. Switch-room By permission of the National Telephone Company
There are at present, and will be until the end of 1911, when the Postmaster-general takes over the control of all telephone systems, two distinct services, each with its own regulations, age limits, and rates of pay.
These two services will be merged into one at the end of 1911. The Post Office then either may issue a new set of regulations to govern both staffs. or may decree that the existing regulations shall apply to the combined services.
As there is, however, still plenty of time in which to enter the service of the National Telephone Company, it is worth considering how a girl between sixteen and twenty-five may do so.
The National Telephone Company, which now employs about two thousand operators, stipulates that candidates must be between sixteen and twenty-five, of a minimum height, without shoes. of 5 feet 3 inches, and of good education and address. Young women possessing these qualifications should write for an application form (which must be filled up in the candidate's own hand-writing) to the Traffic Manager, National Telephone Company, Salisbury House. London Wall, E.g.
Providing that she possesses the above qualifications, the candidate will next have to pass ' an educational test in reading, writing (copying Ms.), spelling, and the first four rules of arithmetic (simple and money).
The subjects of the educational test do not cover a wide scope, and no girl who has had an average schooling should fail.
The candidate, after satisfying the doctor, becomes a " learner," and enters the company's operating school for training, receiving from the start Ios. per week. This rate of pay continues throughout the period of training and probation, and for the first six months as a staff operator.
The probationer is transferred to the staff " as soon as she is efficient in her duties." This period averages, according to individual ability. from two to three months. At the end of the first six months of service as a staff operator the pay is increased to tis., and rises by is. every six months until the end of two and a half years' service, so that at the end of two and a half years' service the pay is 15 s. a week. After this increases are annual, the first one of 2s. bringing the salary at the end of three and a half years' service to 17s. a week. Special recommendations are required before the remuneration goes above 18s. to the operator's maximum, which is £ a week.
Above the grades of operators, and recruited from their ranks, are supervisors, with a maximum salary of £1 Ios. a week.
The hours of duty for operators are 42 1/2 per week, a day's service (between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.) consisting of 7 1/2 hours, exclusive of meal-times. Duty performed after 8 p.m. brings with it the advantage of a special allowance of 3s. over and above the rate earned by the operator in the week in which the late duty occurs.
" Divided duty " brings also extra pay. and in the event of an operator doing both " late " and " divided duty " in the same week the special allowance is 4s. 6d. Overtime is paid for at from 5d. to 8d. per hour, according to status. The hours of duty are changed from week to week, so that one v an operator will not need to reach her Exchange before midday, whilst the next week her work may be over in the early afternoon.
There is a special scale of pay for Sunday, Christmas Day, Good Friday, and Bank Holidays, when such service is required, and no operator is required to be on duty for more than fifty-four hours in the week, excluding meal-times, even should she take both overtime or Sunday duty in any week.
In addition to the staff already dealt with, there are a few operators engaged under special conditions for four hours per day only, taken between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. The genera] conditions of service are the same here as for the ordinary staff, but the pay is, of course, proportionately less.
Operating School, London Wall By permission of the National Telephone Company
The comfort of the staff is not neglected by the National Telephone Company. Forty-five minutes are allowed for dinner and fifteen minutes for tea. At many Exchanges conveniences for cooking meals are supplied at the company's cost. The result of this arrangement is that a good dinner can be bought on the premises at the rate of 5d. per day. and afternoon tea for 1d.
The following is a typical menu for a week: