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War Economy

Manpower Controls Revoked 2

Manpower Controls Revoked 2

On the surrender of Germany, in May 1945, the Government had announced its intention of abolishing manpower controls as soon as possible. At this time there were over 250,000 workers in

2 Further information is given in Parliamentary Paper H–11A, Report of the National Service Department, 1946, pp. 57–62.

page 507 industries which had been declared essential. Well over half of these workers had been directed there, and many others would become subject to direction if they sought new employment.

Complete abolition of manpower controls would mean that over a quarter of the labour force would be able to move freely for the first time for several years. Though it was obvious that the conclusion of the war must soon bring to an end most manpower controls, this important change in the relationships between employer and employee needed to be made with a certain amount of caution.

The National Employment Service wrote:1

‘In regard to the removal of controls generally it was necessary to bear in mind the need for continuing to meet the requirements of men overseas—particularly for food—the necessity to push ahead with housing, and other work necessary for rehabilitation and the transition from war to peace; and the need to maintain an operative minimum of labour in key industries and services through the transition period. It was apparent that no wholesale removal of controls could take place immediately, but that relaxation must be a gradual process to smooth over the change from wartime to peacetime activities as much as possible.’

On 30 June 1945 the first list of revocations of declarations of essentiality was gazetted; 184 undertakings were named. By VJ Day, undertakings employing 10,000 workers had been freed. The process was then accelerated. Meantime, the pool of labour subject to direction had been reduced until, at the end of August, it included only single women aged 18 to 29 years inclusive, and men other than returned servicemen aged 18 to 44 years inclusive.

A few days after the end of the war a public statement summarised the Government's intentions:2

‘Further relaxations of manpower controls announced last night by the Minister of Industrial Manpower (Mr McLagan) provide for exemption from liability for future direction of all married women, irrespective of age, of all other women 30 years of age and over, and of all men of 45 years of age and over. Employers will not need to obtain consent for the engagement of labour within exempted classes, provided they notify all such engagements to the Manpower Officer within seven days. Most declarations of essentiality are to be removed by the end of the year, and some large groups by the end of September. All married women will, on application, receive automatic consent to leave essential industries if they desire to take up home duties….

1 H–11a, Report of the National Service Department, 1946, p. 57.

2 Evening Post, 18 August 1945.

page 508

‘“With the end of the war against Japan,” said the Minister, “the Government has given immediate consideration to the maximum extent to which manpower controls can at once be further relaxed. There are, of course, some industries and services which have a particularly vital part to play in giving effect to the rehabilitation programme and the production of food for export and which will have to rely (though to a steadily decreasing extent) upon assistance from manpower control and direction measures. These will include such industries as hydro-electric development, freezing works and dairy factories, sawmilling and housing, coal mining, hospitals and mental hospitals, certain public utility services, woollen mills, and possibly a few others. It is unlikely that we can remove control from these industries this year. Removal even in these cases will, however, be made as early as possible, and the position will be kept under constant review, and further relaxations will be effected as demobilization proceeds.

‘“With the exception of the industries which I have already indicated, it is the Government's intention to have all other declarations of essentiality revoked by the end of the current year. In a number of cases the revocation cannot be effected immediately, but over the next few months very large numbers of men and women will be returning to industry from service in the Armed Forces, and their return will sufficiently ease the manpower position to enable these revocations to be effected. There are, however, a number of industries in which consideration of a number of matters (such as the ending of war contracts, the current manpower position in the industry, and the numbers of men and women likely to be returned from the Armed Forces) has convinced the government that declarations can be revoked by the end of September, if not sooner.”

‘… It will not be possible to avoid directions for some time yet, but in future directions will not be given to persons in the classes now exempted from the Employment Restriction Order. Directions will be restricted to only the highest priority industries, and other industries will be expected to rely upon voluntary sources of obtaining staff.’

From the end of November 1945 it was no longer necessary for essential undertakings to obtain the prior consent of the District Manpower Officer for the engagement of new labour; provided the engagement was notified within forty-eight hours. The requirement to notify engagements was revoked from the end of January 1946, and, with similar relaxations for non-essential undertakings, page 509 no employer was now required to have consent to engage labour nor to notify terminations.

Meantime, further declarations of essentiality were being revoked. A Wellington daily reported at the end of January:1

‘It is estimated that 8,085 undertakings and 96,500 workers will be affected by the revocation, as from today, of all declarations of essentiality, with the exception of those relating to the industries of coal mining, dairy factories, freezing works, hospitals, prisons, sawmilling and tramways, and some small industries subsidiary to them. The declaration covering hospitals and prisons will be lifted from February 28th, tramways on March the 9th, and the others probably on March 31st.

‘Announcing these revocations the Minister of Industrial Manpower, Mr McLagan, said the most important of the declarations now being revoked were in respect of the following industries:

Brick and tile works, building, canvas, cement, clothing, concrete products, engineering, fertilizers, fire boards, flour milling, footwear, furniture, Government services, including Public Works Department, Rehabilitation Department, Price Tribunal and second division Railway Department, laundries, main highways, rubber, sack manufacture, tanneries, timber merchants, woollen mills, hosiery, and knitting factories.

‘“Since the cessation of hostilities it has been the policy of the Government to relax manpower controls as soon as practicable, having regard to the necessity to maintain important production and services till the benefit of demobilization from the armed forces can be felt,” said Mr McLagan. “Declarations of essentiality have been subject to constant review and considerable numbers have been revoked in progressive stages.”’

After January 1946 very few direction orders were issued.2 By the end of March, only three industries were still subject to declarations of essentiality. They were meat freezing, sawmilling and forestry, and coal mining.

From 29 June 1946 all remaining wartime manpower controls were abolished.

1 Evening Post, 31 January 1946.

2 There were 95 in February and March.