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War Economy

Limited Success of Co-operative Contracting

Limited Success of Co-operative Contracting

The Commission, in its 1945 report, was cautious in its comments on co-operative contracting, describing the results as being ‘as a whole, quite gratifying having regard to shift work and other influences tending to reduce the rate of work.’1

Profit distributions under the co-operative contracting system in the last two years of war added about 9 per cent to wage earnings and should have been an adequate incentive to work effectively, had the bonus payment been directly related to the work done on each job. In some ports, however, bonus payments were averaged out over a number of vessels, so that the ultimate payment became too far removed from the effort put into any particular job. In these circumstances bonus payments provided an overall increase in the level of payments and gave some assurance that the workers would not lose by working harder, but failed to provide an adequate incentive to work really effectively on any particular vessel.2

There was considerable difficulty in securing adequate supervision of waterside work, and the Commission took over foremen previously employed by the individual companies in order to use them more effectively.3 Some improvement in work seems to have resulted but not nearly as much as was expected.

Nearly a million tons of cargo was handled under the co-operative contracting system in the year 1940–41, increasing to well over three million tons in 1941–42, and to nearly four and a half million tons in 1942–43. For each of the next two years over four and a half million tons was handled under this system, and the Commission, in its 1945 report, stated that, apart from American vessels at the port of Auckland, over 90 per cent of the cargo handled on the waterfronts of New Zealand was worked under contract.4

Had the co-operative stevedoring scheme provided an adequate incentive to effective work, the shortage of supervising staff might not have proved too serious a handicap. As it was, the increased incidence of spelling and other abuses showed clearly that the incentive to get the work done was inadequate. Despite some minor improvements in rates of working, the general standard of work on the waterfront remained one of the weakest points in the country's war effort.

1 p. 4.

2 This view is confirmed by the Report of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Waterfront Industry, Parliamentary Paper H–50, 1952, p. 52.

3 At Auckland in June 1942, at Wellington in November 1942.

4 Parliamentary Paper H–45, p. 4.

page 402

The Commission's 1945 report gives an estimated increase of about a quarter in the per man rate of loading under the contracting system as compared with the earlier wages system,1 but the evidence offered is not convincing.

Commission control may have helped to reduce the loss of time through stoppages of work on the waterfront. The percentage of hours lost during five years of Commission control was approximately half of what it had been during the preceeding four years.

Chart 68 shows changes in turn-round times of overseas vessels.

chart of shipping statistics

Chart 68

Quicker turn-round of overseas vessels was the main consideration. The Commission estimated that an average saving of eighteen days per vessel had been made in the time spent in New Zealand by overseas vessels, reducing the average time by half.2 It attributed five days of this saving to ‘speedier work under cooperative contracts

1 p. 24. Paragraphs 145 to 150 of the Report of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Waterfront Industry throw considerable doubt on this comparison.

2 April 1944 to March 1945, compared with January to June 1939; including steaming time between ports, but excluding days taken on ship repairs when cargo was not worked. The base period, in 1939, is too short for satisfactory comparisons. Moreover, it included a time when the workers were being accused of go-slow tactics. See also pp. 392 and pp. 393.

page 403 system’, seven days to ‘working shifts, Sundays, and holidays’, and six days to ‘reduction in ports of call’.1

1 See also p. 377. On average, each ship called at one less port in New Zealand.