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The War Effort of New Zealand



When the Repatriation Bill was under consideration it was anticipated that the re-employment of 100,000 returned soldiers would be a colossal problem and that it might be necessary to provide special public works to tide over the period of re-construction. Such fears proved to be groundless. The end of the war found New Zealand suffering from a dearth of labour in all industries. Carpenters, artisans, clerks and labourers were in demand everywhere and employers were prepared to pay high wages for competent men. It was not found necessary to seek employment for more than 15 per cent. of returned soldiers. The rest, after a holiday of a month or two, settled down slowly to their old occupations.

The Repatriation district offices soon developed into efficient labour agencies and lost no opportunity in urging employers to take returned soldiers into their service. In most cases they willingly co-operated, and labour unions page 170raised no insuperable difficulties, as trade union wages were paid in every case. It must, however, be admitted that many complaints were made that some of the returned soldiers were restless, and apt to leave their work without reasonable excuse.

"Soldiers' unrest" is a world-wide war disability and needs sympathetic treatment. After the novel experience of life in foreign countries, the excitement and danger of the trenches, the daily comradeship round the camp fires, the unrestrained freedom of the brief periods of leave in "Blighty," and the lazy life on the returning troopship, it is easily understood that civilian life in New Zealand seemed infinitely "flat, stale, and unprofitable." A period of reaction was inevitable; with some it was short, but longer with others. "Give me anything but steady work" said one officer, and his feeling will be understood by most returned men.

The work of finding employment was so successfully taken in hand that up to the 20th January, 1920, no less than 14,093 men had been found employment, and the number on the waiting list was only 251.

The system of "subsidised workers" adopted by the Department was specially successful. Men, after a preliminary training were put straight into workshops to be taught trades, and at the same time to become gradually self-supporting. The earning power was estimated from time to time by a Board consisting of the employer and representatives of the Repatriation Department, and of the trade union concerned. The wages so fixed were paid by the employer, but were supplemented by the State to a wage of £3 a week (exclusive of pension).

Until employment could be found for soldiers needing it, unemployment sustenance (inclusive of pension) was paid on the following weekly basis: soldier £2 2s., wife 15s., children (not exceeding four) 3/6. In New Zealand few men applied for such assistance.

To enable returned soldiers to settle in business, loans were granted not exceeding £300. Up to the 20th January. 1920,2,668 such loans had been authorized in 110 varieties of business involving an expenditure of £606,642. It has been page 171found that the repayment of interest and principal has been very satisfactory. Loans not exceeding £50 (free of interest) were also granted for the purpose of purchasing household furniture and tools of trade (subsequently this grant was increased to £75).