Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

War Economy

The Waterfront Control Commission

The Waterfront Control Commission

The April regulations provided for a Waterfront Control Commission of three which would operate through the Waterfront Controllers and other officers at the ports.

Losses of shipping and interference with shipping movements were making it difficult to move New Zealand's exports sufficiently quickly. It was vital to save time wherever possible. Quicker turn-round of ships was an obvious step, and the regulations of April 1940 were intended to give the Commission power to ‘do all such things as it deems necessary for the purpose of ensuring the utmost expedition in the loading, unloading and storage of cargo at any point.’

The Commission had very extensive powers. It could employ labour, prescribe terms and conditions of employment, fix rates of remuneration and even make provision for a guaranteed weekly minimum payment.3 To give the Commission more freedom to act, the provisions of other legislation were suspended.4

The Commission's first function was to deal with existing discontent, rather than with special wartime measures. This was a matter of urgency, but it must not be imagined that the watersiders were the only ones dissatisfied. While many people recognised that they had a genuine grievance, there was widespread condemnation of their reluctance to exert themselves. The Prime Minister misjudged public feeling and aroused ‘sharp criticism’ when, in a speech page 396 on 19 May 1940, he paid tribute ‘to the waterside workers at Lyttelton who had loaded an overseas liner on Saturday and Sunday when they realised it was essential work and those at Wanganui who had also worked during the weekend’.1

3 In ports where the bureau system operated, each man registered who complied with the bureau rules had, since 1937, been guaranteed a weekly wage of £2 10s. This was raised to £3 by the Commission in June 1940.

4 The whole of the provisions of the New Zealand Waterside Workers’ Award and of the Labour Disputes Investigation Act 1913, and certain provisions of the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act, in so far as they related to that award, were suspended.

1 Quoted by Wood, p. 132. The second leader in the Dominion of 21 May said: ‘The Prime Minister's reference to the civilian side of national organisation contained proposals which are needful enough …. His lavish praise of waterside workers who worked on a Sunday (presumably at the high rates of overtime they are entitled to claim for such work) in order to load a certain important cargo was a form of kowtowing to petty sectional interests which was a monstrous anomaly in the light of the news from overseas and the sacrifices being made in the Motherland.’ On the other hand, a statement in the House of Representatives by Mr F. L. Frost, Member for New Plymouth, gives another angle. He said: ‘The honourable member for Waipawa took the waterside workers to task for not working on certain vessels after midnight. Curiously enough, when I went home that weekend I learned a little more about that story. Neither the honourable member nor the New Zealand Herald have given the other side of the story. It was told me by a friend who was talking to the stevedore when the ship in question sailed short of cargo. While he was there a waterside worker came to the stevedore and put a chit in his hand, and the stevedore turned to my friend and said, “Do you know what this is? I will tell you. This is a chit for the overtime the waterside workers have earned on the ship working here tonight. They have handed the whole of their overtime money to me for distribution to the boys of the R.A.F. on board that vessel, for the purpose of providing them with comforts.” He said that this had been the regular practice of those men on the waterfront ever since the war started. Now, I challenge the New Zealand Herald, the Dominion, or any of these other daily newspapers that are so ready to condemn the waterside workers, to write a leading article on that theme.’ (NZPD, Vol. 257, p. 495, 12 July 1940.)