Special Manpower Assistance to Farmers
Special Manpower Assistance to Farmers
The farm labour problem was now becoming difficult and, with increasing pressure for extra food production, the Government gave such assistance as it could, consistent with maintaining its defences against possible invasion. At harvesting time, when labour requirements were at their peak, an arrangement was made for farmers to draw men temporarily from the Armed Forces. These men remained under military discipline, and the harvesting became in effect a type of army operation. Ten thousand men were used in this way in the 1941–42 season, and eight thousand in 1942–43. This arrangement looked after the most difficult seasonal peaks for labour on farms and enabled recruiting for the Armed Forces to be carried on in spite of the rising pressure for extra food production. By the end of 1942, the Japanese drive in the South Pacific had been stopped, and it became possible to reduce the home defence forces. Farming again received favoured treatment; up to the end of March 1943, sixteen thousand men were released from the home defence forces, and of these over half were farm workers.page 193
Special arrangements were made, also, to put women on farms. At the 1936 census, 7000 women were engaged in farm work. To meet wartime labour difficulties an attempt was made to find extra women to work on farms. However, in the early stages of the war, the farmers were not ready to receive them. They considered the work unsuitable for women and objected to women receiving the same wages as men. By the end of 1941, with male labour becoming much harder to find, these difficulties were overcome, and a Women's Land Corps was formed. Initially, in the effort to satisfy the farmers, the wages and conditions of work were not made sufficiently attractive. In June 1942 the Corps had only 146 members and was unable to find recruits for known farm vacancies. In August 1942 conditions were improved, and the name of the organisation was changed to ‘Women's Land Service’. By the middle of 1943, some 800 women were employed and, by March 1944, the number had increased to nearly 1900.
University students and senior school pupils also assisted as vacation workers. During the 1943–44 vacation, it was arranged that the universities should resume at the beginning of April instead of the beginning of March, so that students could help at the peak of the season. In addition, the Education Department agreed that senior school pupils should be allowed to work for an additional month after the normal holidays.
Throughout the 1943–44 season, farming continued to receive manpower assistance in various ways, though it still had to contribute a share towards the manpower requirements of the New Zealand forces overseas.
Though a great deal was done to assist with farm labour difficulties over these years, some farmers do not seem to have been particularly co-operative. The experience of the National Service Department in 1944 is illustrative and worth quoting in full from the Department's 1946 report:1
‘By the beginning of 1944 the demand for foodstuffs and other farm products by the United Kingdom and both the American and New Zealand forces in the Pacific became so great that it was decided to bring back those men of the Third (Pacific) Division who would volunteer for farming or other selected essential work.
Throughout all these vicissitudes, farming was never declared an essential industry. It is perhaps an indication of the strength of the farmers as a pressure group that, in spite of their receiving so much manpower assistance, they were able to avoid the preliminary step which other industries had to take of being declared essential. Essentiality would of course have placed obligations on the farmers themselves, and what actually happened was that they received the benefits of essentiality without accepting its special obligations.
Some of the reasons why the farming industry did not wish to be declared essential were stated by Mr A. P. O'Shea, Dominion Secretary of the New Zealand Farmers' Union, in November 1943. In replying to criticism by Mr R. C. Clarke, Chairman of the Auckland District Council of Primary Production, he said:2
1 In fairness to the farmers, it should be added that the men were to become available at a time when farm labour needs were not seasonally high. (Author's footnote.)
This sounds very reasonable, but it should be assessed against the fact that between 1 October 1943 and 31 March 1946, some 13,300 men and 3300 women were in fact directed into farming.1
Some idea of the protection given to farm labour, in spite of the fact that farming was not declared essential, can be gained from a January 1945 statement of the Director of National Service in which he referred to the country's last reserve of military manpower as the ‘group of 32,483 men, who lacked three years' overseas service but were held in essential industry, 11,874 of them in farming….’2
1 Parliamentary Paper H-11a, Report of the National Service Department, 1946, p. 140. The figures include persons directed into flax and vegetable growing. The same report, at p. 32, says, ‘Persons were directed only to undertakings declared essential, except in a few special cases, particularly farming’, and, at p. 36, ‘Male workers were directed from other industries to the farming industry. Between October, 1943, and March, 1944, 457 men were so directed.’ In most cases, men were ‘placed’ on farms, not ‘directed’, persuasion being used rather than the compulsory powers.
2 Quoted by Wood, p. 292.