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War Economy

The Manpower Problem Extends to Secondary Industries

page 95

The Manpower Problem Extends to Secondary Industries

Manufacturing progress was affected by the policy of import selection which, as the natural outcome of import and exchange control, had been in operation since 1938. A number of secondary industries had been building up behind the shelter of this protection. War requirements and the continuance of import controls gave a further fillip to manufacturing industry and led to the emergence of another crop of new industries.1 Yet there was no general shortage of labour for manufacturing until 1941. The reason was the increasing employment of women in many industries where the labour force had previously been predominantly male.2 By way of example, the meat freezing and preserving industry, while staffed predominantly by men, employed two and a half times as many women in 1942–43 as in 1938–39. More than four hundred extra women had moved into the industry. Over the same period a loss of over a hundred men in dairy factories was more than made good by recruitment of extra women.

In electricity generation and supply women had made up only about 10 per cent of total staff, but in the first four years of war losses of men were made good by recruiting women, and in 1942–43 women made up 18 per cent of staff. In these four years the number of women in sheet-metal industries doubled and the number in foundries and boiler making trebled.

Even in 1942–43, when an extra 125,000 men had been absorbed into the armed forces, manufacturing industries had a labour force 12,000 higher than at the outbreak of war.

The war period comes into the earlier stages of a fairly rapid change in the economic structure of New Zealand, when secondary industry was moving up from its subordinate place to reach a position, in the 1950s, where it was to rival farming as the largest producer of goods. To some extent the pre-war upsurge of manufacturing made the strains of war tolerable, but then again manufacturing thrived on wartime demands and its upward impetus was strengthened.

Wartime demands for manufacturing production were much more direct than those on farming, and by the middle of 1941 manufacturing too was feeling the pinch as a result of the drastic reductions in civilian manpower. Two extracts from letters by the Factory Controller to the Director of National Service are of

1 Manufacturing production is dealt with in Chapter 7.

2 See also Chart 18, p. 91.

page 96 interest. On 10 June 1941, he wrote in protest at the continued drawing off of men for the forces, and said:

‘I have no need to point out the difficulties under which many manufacturers are working today through the loss of trained workers. This position will become more difficult as further classes are enrolled and as we have to improvise more and more in our production.’

Then, on 2 October 1941, he protested against employers in non-essential industries taking key men from essential work.1

‘In each case I have used my best endeavours to have the man retained on military work, but, as I have no power to control workers' movements, moral suasion only has been open to me.’

As the position became more difficult, there was considerable pressure for protection of key industries, but, from the dropping of the original reserved occupations lists in September 1940 until it finally decided on direction of civilian manpower in January 1942, the Government firmly refused to give any industry a blanket protection by declaring it essential.

1 Both letters on National Service file 13/2/5, Pt. 1. Extracts in War History narrative No. 51.