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War Economy

The Coming of Employment Controls

page 97

The Coming of Employment Controls

By the end of 1941 17 per cent of all men in industry had been taken into the armed forces. Since October 1940, conscription had been necessary to find sufficient numbers for the armed forces.1 In industry this had led to further inroads on the labour supply.

As competition for labour grew fiercer and the production from some of New Zealand's industries became more vital to the war effort, it was increasingly apparent that more than persuasion would be necessary to safeguard staffs of essential industries.

The entry of Japan into the war, in December 1941, resulted in accelerated recruiting for the Forces in New Zealand and threw further burdens on industry. In the next three months the strengths of the armed forces were increased by 40 per cent, but were still regarded as inadequate. Some idea of the pressure on manpower at this stage is given by Wood when he says, ‘… no conceivable disposition of manpower could find, even untrained, more than half the men judged necessary for the local defence of New Zealand.’2

Some measure of compulsion became necessary and the Government, which had first resorted to military conscription in October 1940, took specific powers in January 1942 to conscript workers for industrial purposes.3 It became possible to require civilians to register for work, to direct them into work of national importance, to stop workers leaving industries which were regarded as essential, and to restrict the engagement of labour in industries not regarded as essential. Measures could also be taken to combat industrial absenteeism. These powers were given to the Minister of National Service, subject to a right of appeal to a local Manpower Committee.

A formal declaration by the Minister of National Service that an industry or undertaking was engaged in essential work was the starting point for industrial control. Once this declaration was made, the movement of workers in and out of the industry and the employers' right to dismiss became subject to control by the District Manpower Officers. As a corollary, measures became necessary to protect workers who were held in essential industries against unfair wages or working conditions and to require from them reasonable standards of attendance and performance.

1 Under National Service Emergency Regulations gazetted on 18 June 1940.

3 By amendment to the National Service Regulations, 10 January 1942. (The Emergency Regulations Amendment Act of 31 May 1940 had already given more general powers to control the labour force.)

page 98

The principal industries affected by declarations of essentiality were:1

Mining Food processing
Sawmilling Clothing and footwear
Defence construction Provision of meals
Railways Government Departments
Power supply Education
Engineering and shipbuilging Hospitals, Fire Boards, and sanitation

In many cases the acceptance or otherwise of defence contracts was crucial in deciding whether particular undertakings should be declared essential. For this purpose the National Service Department depended on the Factory and the Munitions Controllers to specify the businesses which were concerned with defence contracts, so that their labour supply could be conserved.

By the end of 1942 some 230,000 workers, or about one-third of the working population, were in industries which had been declared essential. Farming, despite its paramount importance, was never actually declared essential, but from 1940 onwards always featured prominently in the Government's arrangements for the protection of the internal economy. There were said to be administrative difficulties in the way of providing the formal procedures necessary to declare farming essential.2

Of the introduction of manpower controls the National Service Department wrote:3

‘By the middle of 1941, … it had become apparent that the war must be a long one, requiring a further steady flow of reinforcements overseas. While, up to that point, industry had been able to adapt itself to the increasing labour shortage by voluntary measures, a close study of the over-all man-power position then carried out showed that, with 73,000 men already withdrawn from industry and in the Forces by the end of June, 1941 (including 42,000 actually overseas), these voluntary measures of adjustment could not continue to meet the position for much longer. In September, 1941, the Department therefore began to study the question of introducing compulsory measures of industrial mobilization (man-power controls) in New Zealand whenever the strain of mobilization might make this necessary. In doing so it had available the measures already adopted by the British Government.

1 Parliamentary Paper H-11a, Report of the National Service Department, 1943, p. 44.

2 See also p. 194.

3 Parliamentary Paper H-11a, Report of the National Service Department, 1946, p. 30.

page 99

‘The outbreak of war with Japan in December, 1941, brought the question of industrial mobilization to a head with unexpected urgency. The need for home defence became of paramount importance. It became immediately necessary to withdraw a further 45,000 men from industry for the home-defence Forces in the early part of 1942, followed by further withdrawals, until, by September, 1942, industry had lost some 170,0001 men to the Armed Forces overseas and within New Zealand. The necessity for mobilization on such a scale made the introduction of man-power controls a matter of urgent necessity almost overnight. In January, 1942, Amendment No. 8 of the National Service Emergency Regulations 1940 was gazetted providing for such controls and for the appointment throughout the Dominion of District Man-power Officers to administer them under the direction of the Minister of National Service. These regulations were later taken out of the National Service Emergency Regulations and gazetted separately as the Industrial Man-power Emergency Regulations 1942, and then came under the administration of the Minister of Industrial Man-power.

‘Under these regulations industries or individual units of industries in which it became necessary to hold or reinforce the labour content could be declared to be “essential”. The first declarations were made in January, 1942, covering butter and cheese making, electric-power production and supply, the manufacture and supply of coal-gas, hospitals, the sawmilling, coalmining and linen-flax industries, and the manufacture of munitions and Army equipment. As war production mounted and as further mobilization decreased the labour force available to industry as a whole, it became necessary to extend the coverage of declarations not only to protect actual war production, but also to protect vital ancillary production and services, until by 31st March, 1944, it was estimated that approximately 255,000 workers, representing 40 per cent of the Dominion labour force, were employed in undertakings declared essential.’

1 Sic. This figure may refer to enrolments rather than to numbers lost at a specific time. See also table on p. 82.