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War Economy

Hours of Work

Hours of Work

Well before the war, efforts had been made to reduce hours of work in industry and, in 1936, the newly elected Labour Government had reduced hours generally from about 48 to 40 hours a week. These were the hours for which ordinary rates were payable. There were also restrictions, in the interests of the health of the workers, on the number of overtime hours in various industries, particularly for women and boys.2

As the strain on manpower built up, there was naturally a good deal of pressure for the extension of working hours to meet war conditions. The Labour Department was authorised to extend overtime permissible in factories handling war orders, provided the usual safeguards were exercised.

For more sweeping revisions of hours, the Labour Legislation Emergency Regulations 19403 made the Minister of Labour the sole judge of what modifications to working hours were necessary to ensure optimum production and to maintain the services. In

2 For example, in factories the limit was 120 hours of overtime a year for women and boys.

3 See p. 447.

page 456 practice, the Minister had the advice of an Industrial Emergency Council composed of equal numbers of members representing employers and workers. The Council set up an Hours Committee which considered applications by industries for longer working hours. The committee would conduct a formal hearing and make a recommendation either to the Minister direct or to him through the full Council. This recommendation usually became the basis of a Labour Legislation Suspension or Modification Order.

With the increasing scarcity of labour, considerable overtime was worked. In factories overtime increased from under 4 million hours in 1938–39 to over 17 million hours at the most difficult time in 1943–44.

From time to time further attempts were made to increase the regular hours of work in industry in order to make better use of scarce labour. Quite drastic steps were actually taken in some key industries. For example, we have noted an increase in each worker's hours to 54 per week, for a short time, on defence construction work1 and an increase in the weekly hours for working ships from 68 to 140.2

These extensions of hours, however, in general involved payment of overtime to workers at rates which were 1½ times, double, or treble the ordinary rates.

At the time of Japan's entry into the war, two orders of general application were issued, as a result of recommendations from the Industrial Emergency Council.3 These provisions eliminated the treble-time rates which had been a common cause of complaint and had hindered the working of extended hours. Time worked on holidays was now to be paid for at double time, and the employer was given the option of substituting some other day for the holiday.4

Payment of overtime at penal rates still added to the cost of production and hindered the Government's stabilisation policy. The extra costs tended to make employers reluctant to extend hours. During the most critical stages of the war in the Pacific, there was quite a widespread demand for the extension of hours at ordinary rates of pay. The Director of National Service, in April 1942, advocated a small increase in standard hours at normal rates, but this was part of a sweeping plan for full mobilisation when the Japanese threat looked blackest.5 The Government was reluctant to take a backward step in its labour legislation, by altering the

1 p. 229.

2 With shift work. See also p. 399.

3 The Holidays Labour Legislation Modification Order 1941 and the Overtime and Holidays Labour Legislation Suspension Order 1941, gazetted 18 December 1941.

4 The substitution to occur within six months.

5 Memorandum of 30 April 1942, from Director of National Service to Chairman, Industrial Emergency Council. Copy in War History narrative No. 46. See also p. 482.

page 457 hours of industries which were not definitely associated with the war effort. Later in the year the danger of invasion lessened. The idea of full mobilisation was forgotten and no general increase in hours was made.

Up to May 1942, extensions of hours in essential industries had been permissive only, but a major change was made in this month when power was granted, initially under the Industrial Absenteeism Emergency Regulations, to actually enforce extended hours of work in industries which produced essential commodities or were directly engaged in war production. These regulations did not modify the 40-hour week so far as the basis of payment was concerned, but gave the Minister of Labour power to require longer hours of work in essential industries or in other industries specifically designated, and to delegate such power to his Controllers.1

1 Even the District Manpower Officers were given power, by the Industrial Manpower Emergency Regulations, to extend working hours for a period not exceeding four days.