Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

War Economy

Labour Shortages in the Last Year of War

Labour Shortages in the Last Year of War

Between peak mobilisation in about September 1942 and the end of 1944, armed forces strengths were reduced by 59,000. The numbers serving in New Zealand had been reduced by 62,000, but 3000 more were serving overseas. In Europe, 2 Division was in need of reinforcements and replacements for long-service men, whom the Government had undertaken to release.

In late 1944 and early 1945, the Government was hard put to find sufficient men for the Division in Europe, without impairing food and other essential production. Promised reinforcements were delayed. The Prime Minister wrote in explanation to General Freyberg,1 ‘… owing to their employment in the production of essential foodstuffs, which is now at the height of the season, 3rd Division personnel temporarily released to industry have not been returned to the Army on the dates expected. Difficulty is also being experienced in obtaining the release of men held on appeal, the majority of whom are also employed in primary industries.’

In January 1945, the Director of National Service said,2 ‘The general manpower situation as 1945 commences is more difficult than it has been at any stage of the war.’ However, his recommendation that New Zealand should still further reduce her overseas commitments was not accepted. At this stage, apart from those serving in New Zealand, the main armed forces strengths were 36,000 in the Army in the European theatre, where replacements and reinforcements were urgently needed, 8000 with the RNZAF in the Pacific and 10,000 in the Navy.

The only remaining reserves from which new military recruits could be obtained were men held in essential industry. Cabinet decided, in February, that a further comb out of industry was to be made and, except in sawmilling and coal mining, 20 per cent of the appeals reviewed were to be dismissed without reservation. The effect of this drastic instruction was to bring about an increase of 3000 men by May 1945, of whom most went overseas.

There was, however, increasing restiveness in industry about manpower policy, especially in view of the need for extra food production and the banking up of long-deferred civilian demands for many commodities.

1 Documents, Vol. II, No. 412.

2 Writing to Minister of National Service, 25 January 1945.

page 498

By the end of March 1945, a peak of 255,000 persons was employed in undertakings covered by declarations of essentiality. Industry was still seriously short of labour. Unemployment was down to some scant 200 marginal or semi-employable workers, and the National Employment Service had records of 6600 vacancies for males and 4800 for females.

Between peak mobilisation in September 1942 and VE Day, on 8 May 1945, armed forces strengths were reduced from 157,000 to just below 100,000 men and women. Of these latter 58,000 were serving overseas and 42,000 in New Zealand.1 By VJ Day, on 15 August 1945, a further 10,000 men and women had been released from the forces, lowering the total strength to around 89,000.

The end of the war in Europe brought increasing pressure for relaxation of manpower controls on the one hand and, on the other, demands for more men for industry. All declarations of essentiality were reviewed, and at the end of June the first revocations freed some industries. At the same time limited classes of people were exempted from manpower controls. The end of the war in the Pacific was followed quickly by further releases of workers and industries from control. The Minister of Labour, Mr McLagan, announced on 18 August that most declarations of essentiality would be removed by the end of the year. In the meantime direction of labour would be restricted to the highest priority industries, and the only classes of workers subject to direction would be men aged 18 and under 45 who had not had overseas service, and unmarried women aged 18 and under 30. The last remaining group of declarations of essentiality was revoked in June 1946, and the last group of workers was freed from liability to direction in the same month.

There were still 56,000 men and women serving in the forces in November 1945, but demobilisation at this stage was proceeding rapidly and, by February 1946, total strengths had fallen to 26,500. However, had all these people been released too, it would not have seen the end of the civilian labour shortage. The employment situation had been much more lastingly changed than most people realised at the time.2

1 2 Division, in Europe, was kept at close to full strength until June 1945.

2 See also Chapter 20.

page 499
Noteworthy Events In The Last Three Years Of War
Year Overseas Military and Political Events in New Zealand Economic Events in New Zealand
1942 (December) Comprehensive economic stabilisation scheme started in December.
1942–43 is peak year for defence construction.
Railway travel restrictions in North Island—July 1942 to January 1943.
Full effect of depletion of civilian labour force about end of year.
1943 8th Army enters Tripoli in January. Direction of civilian labour intensified.
German forces surrender at Stalingrad in February—turning point of war in Russia. Lowest war year for marriage and birth-rates.
Battle of Bismarck Sea in March. Record imports from United States in 1943 (mostly Lend-Lease).
U-boat losses averaging one a day by May. Electric power shortages.
Resistance in Tunisia ends in May. Growing criticism of the size of the home army.
Allied shipping position starts to improve in second half of year. High imports of defence materials. First satisfactory year in this respect. Farm stabilisation accounts established in June.
New Zealand Army in the Pacific at peak strength in September.
Allied invasion of Italy in September—Italy surrenders. Butter rationing starts in October.
UNRRA established in November. Harvesting for 1943–44 requires exceptional measures to find sufficient workers.page 500
1944 Acceleration in open-cast coal mining.
British food position worsens. Tribunal set up in February to investigate wages and conditions for railwaymen.
Request in February for urgent increase in New Zealand food production. Decision in March to divert 11,000 men from Pacific division, mostly to the labour force in New Zealand. Meat rationing starts in March.
Railway coal stocks low. Travel restrictions applied, January to September.
Annual Holidays Act passed in April.
Defence Forces Personnel Committee set up in May, following further criticism of the size of the home forces. Organisation for National Development set up in May.
D Day. Landing in France, 6 June. Slightly less rigid rules for Court of Arbitration in June.
First Super-Fortress raid on Japan in June. Dairy production in 1943–44 season lowest for over a decade.
Most United States forces had left by the middle of the year. Long-term contracts for meat and dairy produce signed with the United Kingdom in July. Lump-sum payments start.
Decision in September to disband Pacific division.
Proposals for establishment of the United Nations in October. Closing of United States base at Auckland in October. Maximum New Zealand food supplied to United States forces in 1944.page 501
Americans invade Philippines in October.
Super-Fortress raid on Tokyo in November. Increase in Parliamentary salaries in December.
1945 Protest at Parliamentary salary increase—strikes in January. Manpower position, as 1945 commenced, most difficult in the war.
Electric power shortages tending to restrict industrial expansion.
Railways Tribunal grants back-dated wage increase in February. Public Service wages follow.
New regulations for Arbitration Court in February bring to an end period of rigid stabilisation.
Drastic comb-out of industry for further men for armed forces.
Standard wage pronouncement in March increases wages by 3 ½d. an hour.
United States forces invade Okinawa in April.
VE Day. 8 May.
United Nations Charter signed in June. First revocations of declarations of essentiality in June.
VJ Day. 15 August.