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War Economy

Reserved Occupations and Essential Industries

Reserved Occupations and Essential Industries

The Manpower Committee also concerned itself with the important precaution of working out a schedule of reserved occupations where, in the event of large-scale recruitment for the armed forces, men should be retained to protect the more essential industries against manpower depletion. While the needs of the fighting services would be paramount in times of war, it would also be essential that production be maintained at the highest possible level. The problem of scheduling reserved occupations was approached from this point of view.

It was realised that even in the early stages of a war, when enlistments might be entirely voluntary, there should be some protection against manpower depletion in key industries. After considerable discussion, the Committee recommended in February 1939 that the only form of control required in the initial stages of a war would be to indicate to a minimum of key occupations that men in these occupations would be best serving the national interest by remaining at work.

By May 1939 a list of the factories considered necessary for the production of essential commodities had been completed and, between May and August 1939, a schedule of reserved occupations was prepared. It was adopted by the Council of Defence in August 1939 with a view to its being communicated to recruiting officers. This schedule was effective. In the first month of war the classes of men included in the reserve list were not being accepted for service in any of the armed forces. Some early difficulties arose because the list of reserved occupations was treated as confidential, a requirement which made it impossible to advise physically fit men who page 35 were not accepted for service that they had been reserved for work in essential industries. However, the position was cleared to some extent in mid-September when the Prime Minister stated that physically fit men who were not accepted for service could assume that they were regarded as being essential in their normal occupations.1

On the outbreak of war the Manpower Committee was for a short period reconstituted to include representation from secondary industries and local bodies. However, in October 1939 it held its last meeting and was superseded by the Central Advisory Labour Council. On the new Central Advisory Labour Council were representatives of three major organisations which were established by Cabinet to deal with war conditions, namely the Industrial Emergency Council, the Primary Production Council and the Factory Advisory Committee.

The Minister of Manpower, referring to the Central Advisory Labour Council, said:2

‘The functions of the organisation are to inquire into and report to the Government on all matters affecting the utilization of man-power in the Dominion, with a view to expanding national resources to the full. An important part of the work will be to review constantly the possible effect of recruiting on industry, so that as the war progresses production can be maintained.’

1 War History Branch narrative No. 48, p. 37.

2 Parlimentary Paper H-19b, Utilization of the Manpower of the Dominion, statement by the Minister of Manpower, 1940, p. 1.