Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Women’s Work on the Railways

From the Manchester Evening News, 23rd April 1915.


Widening Sphere of Women's Work.

What the Railway Companies are Doing.

The day of women porters and women booking clerks at the railway stations in the Manchester district is not far distant.

This, at least, is the opinion of one railway official to whom an "Evening News" representative spoke on the question of the part women are playing in the all-important work of filling the gaps caused by the departure of so many men from the city.  All the railway companies, he said, were finding it difficult, even now, when trips and excursion traffic were entirely suspended, to get sufficient labour.  Indeed there was a distinct shortage in practically every branch of the railway service, and that being so it did not require a great stretch of the imagination to realise that things would be in a rather chaotic state when people did begin their summer holidays.

Naturally there would not be the great rush from the city as in normal times, but he thought people would get away if they were only given the chance.  One had but to remember the surprisingly large amount of passenger traffic at Easter for proof of that assertion.
In these circumstances there were bound to be confusion and delay at the railway stations unless steps were taken to increase staffs which had been so badly depleted.  It was useless asking for male labour.  "I am to-day," he said, "twenty men and five boys short."  Women labour, therefore, was bound to come.  And why not?  For some kinds of railway work women were perhaps more suitable than men.  Take carriage cleaning for instance.  That was eminently women's work.  "My experience in this direction is that a man may be quicker, but a woman is more thorough.  We should have had women carriage cleaners at our Manchester station long ago, but it is not always convenient to begin a new system.  Our carriage cleaning shed is some distance from the station, and to reach it the men have to cross a number of lines.  You could not ask a woman to do that every day."

Inquiries in other quarters show that, owing to the war, the tendency is more and more to make use of women labour in the railway service.  At one station where most of the typing was formerly done by men, women are now employed in the work; at another, women are being trained for the important work of issuing tickets, and at several stations newsgirls have made their appearance.  Apparently there is no shortage of female workers.
At one of the stations where women carriage cleaners have been introduced the officials have been "snowed under" by applications for the work.  So far about a dozen have been employed, but as many as sixty women are on the books waiting the opportunity to do this class of work—a significant commentary, in itself, upon the state of the labour market where women are concerned.

Passengers at Victoria Station will by this time have become tolerably used to the blue uniformed women carriage cleaners there.  The work is perhaps not as straightforward as ordinary office or house cleaning, but the women have adapted themselves so well to the new conditions that the officials are highly satisfied with the innovation.
Naturally the question of women's pay for men’s work is arousing some attention, and the Manchester branch of the Women's Freedom League have adopted a resolution urging every woman resolutely to refuse to undertake any branch of work except for equal wages with men.  The resolution demands: (1) That no trained woman employed in men's work be given less pay than that given to men; (2) that some consideration be given when the war is over to the women who during the war have carried on this necessary work; and (3) that, in else of training being required, proper maintenance be given to the woman or girl while that training is going on.

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