A system of co-operative contracting was introduced by the Commission at Wellington in July 1940 and thereafter at various other ports. On 3 July the Minister of Labour announced that contract conditions for the loading and unloading of all overseas ships would apply at Wellington from 10 July, and at Bluff and Timaru from 15 July. Negotiations were being carried out in other ports for the adoption of the system.
‘“The Commission is confident that the extension of the Contract System to other shipping is only a matter of time,” said Mr Webb. Only that morning he had discussed all phases of the waterfront position with the Commission, which had expressed itself as highly delighted with the results so far page 397 achieved. Needless to say much organisation remained to be done, and the introduction of the new system of cooperative contract work would take some time. However, it was gratifying to know that the Commission had arranged for contract work for Wellington, Timaru, and Bluff, and that the system was likely to be introduced in other ports. In order to expedite shipping and to have a speedier turn round of ships, the Commission, the Minister said, had arranged for the waterside workers to work extended time, including Saturdays and Sundays. More than seventy vessels had been worked extended time and on every occasion on which the Commission had approached the workers their cooperation in pushing the work along had been given wholeheartedly.
‘“I am personally delighted with the progress that has been made,” said Mr Webb, “and I am confident of the ultimate success of the cooperative contract system, which will bring everlasting benefits to the men who do the work and to the country.” ‘1
This expression of satisfaction was a little premature. It was to be some years before the system was generally accepted.
Under the contract system the owners of a ship paid the Commission a contract price for the work of loading or discharging, plus overtime rates, minima, special payments and so on. Initially the men were paid wages; but any residue remaining out of the contract price was regarded as a profit or bonus payable to them. There were variations in the methods of payment. At Wellington profits were always distributed on a ship basis, but at all other ports they were pooled.
The Commission itself seems to have been somewhat disappointed in the results of the scheme after it was put into operation. Some sections of the Waterside Workers’ Union did not co-operate, even though there had for a long time been considerable pressure from the union for such an arrangement.
In drafting its 1944 report2 the Commission made the following statement:
‘It is promising to find an improved outlook towards the contracting system although it has taken a longer time than the Commission expected, and it is hoped that the outlook will extend still further so that a degree of understanding will exist which will bring the fullest measure of industrial harmony and peace.’
This was a very guarded statement, but the fact was that the system was watered down, and in general did not achieve what had been expected of it.
2 ‘For security reasons’, the Waterfront Control Commission did not actually publish an annual report in any of the years 1942 to 1944.